The old, old hall at Wembley on Saturday night was the venue for a fight that belonged deep in the Eighties. It was tight, hard, mauling at times and the pair resembled the lost men from a lost time. It was a time when heavyweights had stomachs, big shorts and really knew how to fight. Whyte and Franklin took us back to a forgotten time, swinging, not moving very much, flat-footed action and finishing draped exhausted over the top ropes.
Whyte got the verdict; one judge had it as a draw and the other two voted for Whyte, 116-112, which means he won eight of the twelve rounds. That seems generous to the big lad and there was a serious split of opinion at ringside. It was Franklin’s first loss in 22 fights.
It was Whyte’s first fight since his knockout loss to Tyson Fury in April and his first under the care of Buddy McGirt, the American trainer with a reputation for salvaging careers. It is early days in their relationship, but certainly not early days in the remarkable career and life of Whyte, who is now 35 and has been a professional since 2011; the next fight really matters for the pair. There is bold talk of a rematch with Anthony Joshua; it’s an option for both and probably not the best option.
Franklin, meanwhile, was twenty pounds lighter than he was in his previous fight and his form will improve with a continued drop in excess weight. He can fight, make no mistake, but he needs to avoid the fridge.
Whyte has been much better and hopefully he can regain his form and his edge, and he will have to. There were times on Saturday night when it looked like he was going through the motions and often struggling to do what he has done so often before; his future will depend on how much of his past he can find. It was not vintage Whyte, that is for sure, but he rallied in the last three rounds to win. He knew it had been a close escape.
At the same time, across London at the O2 , there was rare good fortune for Islington’s John Ryder in his WBO interim super-middleweight title fight. Ryder was the away fighter, the underdog, the designated loser, but his fight finished at the end of round four when Zach Parker withdrew with an injured right hand. There was silence and shock in the ring and arena.
The fight was poised in many ways, but Ryder, one of British boxing’s best veterans, was starting to do what he does best and Parker, who was unbeaten and in many ways untested, was struggling to cope. It was, still, an odd ending.
Ryder is now a single deal away from a fight against the full WBO super-middleweight champion, Canelo Alvarez, who has until May to fight Ryder. Hey, stranger things have happened and Canelo does want to fight in the U.K. Nobody in British boxing deserves a fight like that more than Ryder.
On Saturday night, Parker had the height, reach and youth, but Ryder got close, blocked Parker’s movement and just kept the pressure on. Parker was fast running out of ideas and then he injured his hand. The fight was moving in Ryder’s direction; he was doing exactly what Ryder does so well and has always done so well. It was only a shock, it seems, to Parker.
Ryder has now won 32 fights, lost five and been in 12 championship fights during his 12-year career. He has lost wafer-thin decisions to very good champions at all levels, he has been ignored and underrated his whole career. That might just be history now.
Ryder’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, was at his show at Wembley with Whyte, but he spoke to Ryder at the end. “I told him I had reached out to Canelo and that we wanted the fight to be at the Emirates,” said Hearn.
It was a Saturday night of extremes in the boxing game; it continues next Saturday when Tyson Fury defends his WBC heavyweight title against Dereck Chisora outdoors at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium. There are 60,000 seats sold for a night when heavyweight boxing will stay out in the cold.