Dillian Whyte watched with interest Saturday night as MMA heavyweight Francis Ngannou walked to the Octagon for his fight at UFC 249.
The venue in Jacksonville, Florida, was essentially empty, the same setting Whyte will encounter when the British heavyweight squares off against Alexander Povetkin on July 4 at Manchester Arena in Manchester, England.
Whyte admitted Monday that the situation will feel unusual during an interview with promoter Eddie Hearn and former WBC cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew for a “Talk The Talk” segment on Matchroom Boxing’s YouTube channel.
“I think it’s definitely different,” Whyte said. “There’s a massive difference obviously without the crowd. You could see when Ngannou was walking out, he was trying to like look around a bit. He got to the cage and he was like, acting a bit or whatever. … The boxing behind closed doors, it’s a funny one, man. I think, well, the good thing is like I say, I’m a fighter anyway. I’m willing to fight anywhere. I’m willing to go have a brawl anywhere. I’ve calmed down a lot in that way.
“But it’s not a problem for me. We’ve been in gyms. We’ve been in many camps sparring. We’ve had harder fights in the gym than we’ve actually – I’ve had harder fights in the gym than I’ve had in the ring, with just me, my coach and their coach. So, it’ll be similar, I think.”
The card headlined by London’s Whyte (27-1, 18 KOs) and Russia’s Povetkin (35-2-1, 24 KOs) likely would’ve sold out Manchester Arena under normal circumstances. In accordance with the British government’s post-pandemic guidelines, fans will not be allowed to attend that boxing card and others thereafter for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19.
Sky Sports Box Office will televise Whyte-Povetkin as the main event of a pay-per-view show in the United Kingdom. They were supposed to fight for Whyte’s WBC interim championship May 2, but their 12-round bout was postponed for two months due to the coronavirus crisis.
“What a fight that is, me and Povetkin behind closed doors,” Whyte said. “Two warriors that’s gonna come to have it. He’s not gonna come to mess about. You know what I mean? Povetkin’s gonna come to fight. The guy, there’s something about Povetkin that’s very similar in me as well, the way we fight and the mindset. You know, he just smiles and says, ‘OK, I come fight.’ That’s it.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.