Maybe it was the urge to banish the ghost of Wembley, maybe it was the lure of another shot at Anthony Joshua and at redemption, or maybe it is just the way Dillian Whyte was designed. Maybe it just doesn’t matter. Somehow, some way, he found a path past Jermaine Franklin, even if the British heavyweight at times stumbled and sighed down that that road on Saturday night.
In April, Tyson Fury took Whyte’s dream of becoming world champion, crumpled it up, and tossed it out of Wembley Stadium. Perhaps it clipped the famous arch on the way up, before it cascaded to the entrance of Wembley Arena, where Whyte was tasked with saving that dream.
And it is still in tact, straightened out but wrinkled; worse for wear but in Whyte’s hands once more.
He will sit with that dream in the locker room, then on the plane as he returns to his home in Portugal to be reunited with his family and his dogs. He will ponder the cost.
Whyte looked weary here, in a bout that became a brawl, a festival of boxing that threatened to turn into a funeral for the career of one of Britain’s most entertaining heavyweights. The 34-year-old started strong, unfurling hooks into the body of his American opponent, who had never tasted defeat and was still 40-odd minutes from broadening his palate, and it seemed that Franklin, despite being five years younger than Whyte, would be the one to fatigue and fall.
But the 29-year-old showed skill and he showed heart, absorbing some of Whyte’s best shots and barking at the Briton, beckoning to him to throw them harder, bury them deeper into his midsection. Whyte obliged, but the exertion was not without consequence.
The middle rounds were up for grabs, up in the air, with Franklin intent on seizing them. The American retaliated to Whyte’s brighter moments of offence with extended combinations, trying to trump power with speed – not that his own punches were without significant impact – and even rocking the home fighter late in the ninth round.
As the fight entered its final throws, both combatants snatched at whatever reserves they had left and produced a finish that defied logic. If the judges’ scorecards were to be the decider, picking a winner was going to be difficult. If a knockout blow was to mark the end, picking a loser up from the canvas was going to be cruel.
Whyte, to his credit and despite his weariness, never downed weapons. From some hidden holster, he curled a snarling left hook through the arena air and onto the jaw of Franklin, who tumbled back onto the ropes as if he might be flung over them. Somehow, he stayed upright, and even retained enough focus to find Whyte’s chin with accurate, spiteful shots. The bell rang, sounding relief and – for Whyte – release.
He was a 116-112 winner on two judges’ scorecards, while the other had the fighters even.
A penny for the thoughts of Anthony Joshua, sitting – then standing – ringside, and a much more significant amount of money for Whyte if he is to be paired with his old rival again next.
Whether that is a wise idea depends on your perspective. If the mission is to rebuild Joshua at the expense of Whyte, perhaps it is a sage move. Then again, such a challenge might bring more out of Whyte than this contest did, and the “Bodysnatcher” would have more time to work with his new coach Buddy McGirt ahead of that bout.
That fight is very much alive. So is Whyte’s world-title dream, even if it is a little less animated.