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Is Tyson Fury’s Wembley Stadium fight against Dillian Whyte really his last dance?

By STEVE DOUGLAS AP Sports Writer

So much comes out of Tyson Fury’s mouth during fight week that it’s hard to know which aspects to gloss over and what to take seriously from one of boxing’s most colorful and controversial characters.

Yet, on one matter, the world heavyweight champion appears to be consistent. He says his title defense against Dillian Whyte on Saturday is going to be his last fight before retirement.

“I’m getting out healthy and in one piece. Undefeated,” the self-styled “Gypsy King” said.

“Tune in now, because you’re never going to get to see big ‘GK’ in action again after this. This is it.”

If this is indeed it – and it’s probably right to be skeptical, given Fury is 33 and making more money than he ever has atop boxing’s marquee division – then what a way to go.

An all-British fight at Wembley Stadium in London in front of more than 94,000 spectators, the biggest-ever capacity for a boxing bout staged on these shores.

Sure, the occasion would have been grander had the opponent been Anthony Joshua, Britain’s other big player among the heavyweights. The money at stake probably would have been bigger, too, even if the successful purse bid of $41 million for the Whyte fight makes this the richest in boxing history.

Fury, though, seems content with his lot.

There he was this week, taking part in what was billed as a “stare-down” between the two Brits as they went head-to-head for the first time in what has been a fairly low-key buildup.

After a few seconds, Fury chose to tickle the ribs of Whyte and then gave his opponent – and former sparring partner – the earnest of handshakes.

Make no mistake, though. Fury will be deadly serious come Saturday night (2 p.m. PT, ESPN+ PPV) when he fights on home soil for the first time since 2018 – and against someone not called Deontay Wilder for the first time since 2019 – in defense of his WBC belt.

“If I’m not on my A-game then that man’s going to knock my head right off my shoulders,” Fury (31-0-1, 22 KOs) said.

“I’m going to have to be on form to beat him and he will have to perform at his best to beat me. He’s definitely a man that needs a lot of respect and that’s what I’ve given him.”

Fury’s reputation swelled over the course of his gripping trilogy with Wilder in the United States. He showed he can box on the back foot and on the front foot, had a strong chin, and had as much agility and speed in his feet and hands as power behind his big punches.

He should have too much for Whyte (28-2, 19 KOs), who is stockily built and enjoys turning fights into slugfests with his energy-sapping body punches. Certainly Fury, who is of Irish-Gypsy heritage and comes from a bloodline of bare-knuckle champions, is the more skillful of the two boxers.

What remains to be seen is whether Fury has taken his eye off the ball in recent weeks amid the controversy surrounding his links with Daniel Kinahan, one of the leaders of an organized crime gang for whom a reward of $5 million was offered by the U.S. Treasury Department for information that will lead to its destruction or arrest and conviction.

The only time Fury has lost his cool this week was while being questioned about Kinahan in various appearances in front of the media.

Otherwise, it has been the same larger-than-life Fury, cracking jokes, telling stories and talking himself up as the greatest heavyweight of his generation. He has spoken of spending time on the driving range at his local golf club in northwest England to improve his right hand by “putting my shoulder into the shot, really driving it through.” And of his pride in the way he has come back from mental health problems and issues of drug use to become the No. 1 heavyweight and, at one time or other, the holder of each of the belts in the division.

“There’s nothing more for me to achieve,” he said.

Whyte has his own memorable back-story, though, involving being drawn into London’s gang culture in his youth following his move to Britain from Jamaica, a short stint in prison, and a two-year suspension from boxing for testing positive for a banned stimulant.

He spent so long getting overlooked for a shot at the world heavyweight title, despite being a mandatory challenger, that he wondered if his time would ever come.

Whyte is largely unknown, except for in boxing circles in Britain. This is his big chance to make a name for himself, sending Fury into retirement in the process.

“It’s victory by any means necessary,” Whyte said. “… I’m not scared to take risks, I’ve taken risks my whole life so it’s nothing new. I’m ready to rock and roll.”

WHYTE’S WILD RIDE

Whyte’s journey to a long-awaited shot at the world heavyweight title has followed a well-worn path for boxers, from survival on the streets to salvation in the ring.

Fighting got him into trouble.

The fight game then saved him.

“I was a thug,” the 34-year-old Whyte says, bluntly, of his wild teenage years.

He used to beat up bullies for sandwiches. He was stabbed three times and shot twice in gang wars in London. He spent time in jail.

“I’m a guy who, as a kid, had no future, no education, no family,” Whyte continues. “I’m a survivor.”

And there’s so much more to Whyte’s story.

He became a father for the first time at 13, a year after arriving in Britain from Jamaica – where he was born into poverty and left to be raised by another family, at the age of 2, because his mother moved to London to seek a better life for her and her kids.

After turning to kickboxing, mixed martial arts and ultimately boxing to get away from a life of crime, he was suspended for two years in 2012 for testing positive for a banned stimulant. In 2019, another drug test came back positive for a banned steroid, though his suspension was later withdrawn after more tests showed the sample was contaminated.

Then came the years of frustration, since 2019, of being the mandatory challenger for the heavyweight belt without being given a title shot. He waited and waited, and was close to giving up hope.

No wonder, then, that it’s with a sense of pride that Whyte heads into this bout.

“Kids who come from where I was brought up don’t make it a lot of the time,” Whyte said in a video call last week.

“I’m showing people that no matter how bad your situation is, whatever happens to you in life, just persist. Believe in yourself. Don’t listen to no one who doesn’t bring positivity in your life, and let’s keep pushing. All I do is just grind and grind.”

And that’s what he’s been doing for the last couple of months, having decided to go to a base in Portugal for his training camp ahead of the Fury fight.

It’s warmer out there, sure, but Whyte said he needed to escape the life in London that got him into so much bother as a youngster.

“I needed to go to somewhere where I could focus on my boxing and not get distracted and potentially be roped back into things,” he said.

It’s why Whyte has been missing while the loud and charismatic Fury has drummed up publicity for the fight as only he can.

Fury and his team have called out Whyte for his no-shows. Frank Warren, Fury’s UK promoter, called it a “disgrace.” Fury said it was “fear, terror” on the part of Whyte while brushing it off “because Tyson Fury versus his own shadow sells.”

Whyte, however, insists his presence in the all-British fight is as important as that of Fury, who is making his homecoming after fighting in the United States since end of 2018.

“It’s not the Tyson Fury Show,” Whyte said. “Everyone’s saying, ‘it’s Tyson Fury this, Tyson Fury that.’ If Tyson Fury was a big star, why did he never sell out any of his fights with Deontay Wilder?

“I don’t dance to no one’s tune … We can dance together. It’s hard to clap with one hand, you need two hands to clap.”

While Fury remains unbeaten in 32 fights as a professional, Whyte has lost twice. They were against Anthony Joshua in 2015 and Alexander Povetkin in 2020, though he won a rematch against the Russian last year to become the mandatory for the WBC title once again.

The other big win in Whyte’s career came against Joseph Parker in London in 2018.

Next it’s Fury, and they go back a long way. To 2012, in fact, when Whyte was a sparring partner for Fury ahead of the latter’s fight with Martin Rogan and again in 2013 in the buildup to Fury’s proposed fight with David Haye that never materialized.

Whyte recalls living and training “for months” with Fury and his team in a camp site in Warrington in northwest England.

“He needed help from strong guys to bring him up to a level,” said Whyte, who at 6-foot-4 is still several inches shorter than Fury.

Now they are at the same level, given that they are meeting in one of the biggest-ever fights on British soil.

Somehow, Whyte got there, and will pocket nearly $8 million – 20% of the purse bid – for the privilege.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Whyte said.

FURY KEEPS IT LIGHT AT WEIGH-IN

The mood was light on Friday and so was Fury, who weighed in for his WBC 12 pounds lighter than his last fight.

Fury weighed 264.8 pounds, while Whyte tipped the scales at 253-¼ pounds – six pounds heavier than his last fight.

During a downright friendly face-to-face – which underscored the 6-foot-9 Fury’s significant height advantage – the men smiled and tickled each other before an earnest handshake and exchange of caps.

Fury promised it would be a different story on Saturday in his second defense of the title he won in February 2020.

“Don’t doubt us, we’re going to put a show on, like no other before,” Fury said. “It’s going to be a war, don’t worry about that.”

Fury’s weight was lighter than in both of his recent fights against Deontay Wilder. Fury was 273 pounds when he beat Wilder the first time and 277 pounds last October for the trilogy bout.

The weigh-in continued what has been a relatively low-key buildup between the former sparring partners.

Whyte has largely secluded himself at his training camp in Portugal while leaving Fury to drum up interest in the past month.

Fury has suggested he’ll retire after the fight, though hugely lucrative bouts against Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua could surely make him think twice.

Usyk beat Joshua last September to take the WBA, IBF and WBO crowns and is preparing for a rematch with Joshua after leaving his native Ukraine, where he was helping his country in the war with Russia.

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