The sun is out and Dillian Whyte is smiling – he keeps being told this is a high-pressure moment but for the lad who once hid on buses from rival gangs, this is nothing.
Whyte’s career will suffer dire consequences if he fails to avenge Alexander Povetkin in Saturday’s heavyweight rematch, live on Sky Sports Box Office, but this week has also been a moment to tearfully reflect on a truly extraordinary journey from trauma to triumph.
“I shouldn’t be here. There was no plan for me to be here,” an emotional Whyte tells Sky Sports as he considers the disturbing life that he once led, an existence where he fought just to stay alive.
That is why Whyte can go eyeball-to-eyeball with the man who so viciously knocked him out last year and not blink. For everything that is on the line against Povetkin, he has already scrapped for so much more.
The short story is that Whyte was born into poverty in Jamaica and when he eventually joined his mother in south London, he fell into the street life. He has been shot at, stabbed, and kidnapped, he became a father aged 13, and only changed his life when his mother visited him behind bars.
“That’s all I know, man. I don’t know anything else,” he says. “It’s sad that, as a child, that’s all I knew. I’m tougher from it and that’s why I bounce back.”
It explains why Saturday’s task, live on Sky Sports Box Office, to avenge a KO defeat to Povetkin does not daunt Whyte.
His in-ring motivation is to re-establish his place in the world title queue but the wider goal is to move further and further from the life he left behind.
Asked what inspires him, he replies: “My kids, my family.
“Making sure my children never have to do the stuff that I did growing up, because I took a lot of risks and did a lot of dangerous things. A lot of things that you shouldn’t even do as an adult, but I was forced to do them as a kid because I was forced to survive. I needed to eat.
“There have been assassination attempts on my life. People have tried to kill me. I never want my family, my brothers, sister, my kids to go through these things.”
His career as a heavyweight boxer has mirrored his difficult upbringing, having to scrap for leftovers.
“I’m motivated for every fight because they’ve all been must-win,” he says. “I never had a big promotion, no Olympic gold medal, I didn’t even win [national amateur tournaments]. I never had a big backing. It’s always been must-win, it’s nothing new to me.
“I just took a chance, dived into the deep end. I took risks sparring with the top heavyweights of the time and proved to myself that I was tough enough, determined enough.”
Whyte shows uncharacteristic emotion when he tells Sky Sports about his mother, an NHS nurse who has battled Covid-19 on the frontline.
“My mum and my kids are my world,” he says tearfully. “My mum had three jobs to look after us, I would see her for just a few hours per day. She would work, cook and clean, go to work again. She had drive that inspired me. She has bad hips but she still goes and goes and goes. Why am I worried what people say when this old lady, in the middle of Covid, is risking her life? The lady is amazing.”
Whyte has received well-wishes from schoolteachers who knew him in his former guise and is overcome with feelings at his image being on a new £2 coin issued by Gibraltar’s government.
“Why me? There are a lot of black guys who have done way more than me,” he says. “It’s a major achievement which I’m happy for. I’m grateful that it’s someone like me. It’s something that will always be there in history, it’s more than I’ve done in the ring.
“Never write a kid off. I was a kid who was written off. People gave up on me.
“I was billed as a street thug with no class. A bad boy.
“Just because someone speaks or acts a certain way, don’t give up on people. Give people a chance to express themselves, to grow into things, to understand things.
“I try to prove my mother right, not to prove people wrong.”
What makes Whyte so dangerous in this fight is that he has the air of a man with nothing to lose, although the reality is that a second loss to Povetkin could irrevocably damage his world title dream.
He reminds us that, after his first loss, he wasn’t beaten again for six years: “After the Anthony Joshua fight, I thought: ‘I have to improve’. I was good enough. In that fight, he recovered two seconds earlier than me, every time. I noticed that. That was because of his training. I had no physio, no care, no diet. I was eating rice and peas and chicken!”
It would be a shame if the Whyte story ended without a single opportunity at the world title when, as he fairly points out, lesser contenders have had their go.
“Eric Molina has had two title shots. Dominic Breazeale has had two,” he shrugs. “All while I was on a winning streak. It’s frustrating. I’m a high-risk guy. It’s easier for the champions to pick them than to pick me.”
Even Whyte’s detractors can’t dispute that he hasn’t made a single excuse since losing to Povetkin.
“Guys like Deontay Wilder and Andy Ruiz Jr never went through these things [during their upbringing] so, when they lose, they start talking,” he says.
“I’ve had two losses and bounced back. Wilder had one loss and gone crazy, accusing his trainer, accusing, accusing, accusing. That’s not what a champion does. A champion finds a way.”
Whyte is typecast as the street thug but, in the Gibraltar solitude, he has offered a softer side to his demeanour in the build-up to his make-or-break rematch.
His motivation has evolved but harks back to his own difficult start.
“If I can change five or 10 people’s lives, I’m happy with that. If I become world champion, change a few people’s lives, inspire a few people, bring revenue to different countries and different people, bring joy to people, I’m happy.”
The Whyte we’ve seen this week is at peace. But Povetkin be warned; his inner fire is burning as strongly as ever.
Watch Povetkin vs Whyte 2 on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Box Office, from 6pm. Book it via your Sky remote or book it online here. Even if you aren’t a Sky TV subscriber, you can book and watch it here.