“Dillian Whyte’s a born fighter” recalls former manager, sparring pros as a 15 year old

“I first met Dillian Whyte when he was 15 in Red Dragons Club. He turned up to a training session, had no gloves and we’d just got a sponsorship deal with Adidas for Pain and Glory. I was going to Red Dragons to see Leon Walters and literally give him a load of Adidas stuff cause he was fighting at Pain and Glory; and then in walks Dillian Whyte at about 15 years old, skinny. He was skinny. He’s a big lad but he was a skinny big lad if you know what I mean.”

Whyte

Dillian Whyte with England international cricketer, Monty Panesar | Photo courtesy of Fighters Inc

Over the past 21 years, Joe Long has met countless personalities and world class athletes through his sports management agency, Fighters Inc. The former English Karate champion use to manage Dillian Whyte – the kickboxer – long before “The Villain” would transition his fighting career into professional boxing. Dillian would win two British kickboxing championships and hasn’t been forgotten by UK Kickboxing for his bloody toughness.

However, world kickboxing had limited opportunities in the late ‘noughties’ when Dillian was emerging as a serious fighting talent (even flirting with MMA), compared to kickboxing’s current resurgence pioneered by GLORY Kickboxing; but even now the best kickboxers still struggle to make a living solely from fighting, in stark contrast to the majority of elite pro boxers.

In his first amateur boxing bout, Dillian defeated current WBA (Super), IBF and IBO heavyweight world champion, Anthony Joshua in 2009 and an intense rivalry would develop in those six years between the two British heavyweights. An exhilarating rematch as pros in December 2015 would see Joshua KO Whyte in the seventh round, after being badly troubled by Dillian in the earlier rounds at The O2 Arena. 

Since then Dillian has won the British heavyweight title and WBC International and Silver championships; defeated Dereck Chisora by split decision in a 12 round war; and fights former WBA (Regular) world champion, Lucas Browne on March 24 at The O2, London.

However, his early pro boxing career was marred in controversy and hardship when he was banned for two years by UK Anti-Doping (UKAD), for a failed drugs test prior-to fighting for an English championship, having consumed a pre-workout drink made from a banned substance, methylhexaneamine (DMAA).

Those events would have crushed most people’s dreams and aspirations of becoming a genuine world contender but the Jamaican born warrior forged his own Rocky Balboa story – the prelude to which – Joe Long recounts: witnessing a 15 year old Dillian Whyte battling multiple world Karate champion, Leon Walters in an intense sparring session up-to, the most darkest moments of his professional boxing career.

The Dillian Whyte Story

“He walked in and didn’t have no gloves and Leon looked at me and I ended up giving him a pair of these gloves; and that was the first time I met Dillian Whyte and he was at 15, one of the sparring partners for Leon Walters. That guy is an absolute beast but he didn’t like the pressure of fighting in-front of an audience.”

“That was the first time I met Dillian and he sparred with Leon that night and gave him a run for his money. Raw as anything. If Leon Walters had of carried on in K-1, he would have become the main guy for GLORY, he would have been the main guy for GLORY now as far as I’m concerned. Leon Walters is a beast.”

“Dillian Whyte’s a born fighter. I could see that on him when he was 15 years old. I believe he can be world champion, 100%. I believe he could be world champion when he started boxing on amateur shows and we helped then crossover into boxing.”

“I think he fought on two maybe three Pain and Glory’s and the one [kickboxing] fight that everyone talks about is the fight with him and Adam Hart where they both fell out of the ring at Excel. I think that was 2008. In fact Dillian fought here boxing [The Troxy], in one of his early fights about his sixth fight.”

“Everyone talks about the Adam Hart fight, he had two fights with Adam. One was on a Dan Green show. Then the rematch was at Pain and Glory, SENI – might have been 2008. Yeah, 2008, 2010 even but they both came out of the ring. Adam Hart got concussed and then couldn’t continue the fight but it was a war.”

“When Dillian Whyte crossed over into boxing he was supposed to fight, he had a knee surgery. He had to take a year out and just get through that injury and then launch his boxing career; and we’d done promotional deal with Frank Maloney.”

“So he had a promotional deal with Frank Maloney and the long-term goal was to do Fighters Inc and Dillian Whyte promotions. We worked with Dillian up-to 10 and O. Up-to his English title that what we got Dillian to.”

“On the way to the press conference was when he got the call; he was fighting Josh McDurmot. On the way to the press conference when we got the call and he got his ban. That was most probably one of he toughest days that I’ve seen an athlete go through.”

“Unfortunately, Dillian and us parted ways which, was a real downtime for me to be honest. Because I thought we’d get through it and we’d continue. He couldn’t earn at all, you know, he was desperate. We tried to help him and offer him the best that we could but I think there was other people; Dillian was talking to a lot of people about a lot of different things and about how he felt so and so forth.”

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Dillian Whyte | Photo courtesy of Fighters Inc

“We ended-up parting ways which was unfortunate but that time was a real dark time for him. It was a dark time for us, you know, cause we’d invested the last three years to get him to an English title and then on the way to the English title, we get a phone call that he’s got a two year ban. For a substance which was in a pre-workout drink which he took. Considering he had a nutrionist and a nutritional sponsorship deal it was a tough one.”

At the time of the UKAD ban, Whyte expressed how distraught he was in a BBC Sport interview with Matt Slater and that he felt unfairly punished compared to other athletes who, had been banned for less than his two year suspension, for using steroids.

“If I were taking steroids and I lied to them I would probably have been better off because there seems to be people in boxing taking steroids, lying about it and getting less than me. I don’t know why they would make an example of me.”

Whyte

Dillian Whyte focused in training | Photo courtesy of Fighters Inc

“I’ve got three kids and boxing is my only way of providing a living for them. I didn’t do too well at school, to be honest, but boxing saved me and changed my life. And it was going well, because I knew it was my best chance in life.”

Whyte would return from his two year UKAD suspension in October 2014, with an emphatic second round TKO stoppage of, Ante Veronica at the Camden Centre, London. From that point on, it’s history in the making for Dillian Whyte’s boxing career, going from strength-to-strength and on March 24, Dillian Whyte vs. Lucas Browne will allow for both heavyweight rivals to settle their grudge match that’s been brewing for numerous months.

Lucas Browne was the first Australian to become a world heavyweight boxing champion after defeating Ruslan Chagaev for the WBA (Regular) title via tenth round TKO in Chechnya, March 2016. However, Browne would end-up being stripped of his title due to failing a controversial drugs test when traces of clenbuterol were found in his urine samples after the fight.

Bizarrely, Browne would again fail another drugs test (after serving his six month ban) in the buildup to fighting, Shannon Briggs for the WBA (Regular) title; and since then has had a bitter war of words via social media (and interviews) with Dillian Whyte.

Speaking to Sky Sports in January, Dillian made his feeling very clear about the Australian boxer, stating:

“I can’t wait, I hate Lucas Browne and I want to hurt him. He’s said some nasty things and he’s going to have to pay for them. If I don’t knock him out, I will not be happy. The plan is to beat Browne and move closer to a world title shot.”

“Beating him should make me a mandatory challenger for a world title. I’m highly ranked across the board. I’ll be a more than credible world title challenger. I’ve been building my way up, so we’re set for a big year.”

The most renown kickboxer to become one of the most dominant world champions in heavyweight boxing was Viatali Klitschko who, was awarded ‘The Eternal World Heavyweight Champion’ in 2016 by, the WBC for his illustrious career; and twice winning the WBC world heavyweight title along with, the WBO and The Ring heavyweight titles.

Should Dillian Whyte defeat Lucas Browne and defend his WBC Silver championship on, March 24 at The O2 Arena in London, he could be next in line to challenge the current WBC world heavyweight champion, Deontay Wilder, for the most prestigious green belt in boxing.

Joe Long: Bellator and Scott Coker “didn’t fly straight with the UK market”

Joe Long has had an interesting and influential role in the growing popularity of mixed martial arts (MMA) in the UK, being at the epicentre of numerous combat sports events, including both the UFC and Bellator MMA’s presence on British soil. Long is one of two co-owners of sports management and marketing agency, Fighters Inc which, he co-founded with former world Karate champion, Paul AldersonThe two friends (and training partners) went into business together after Joe was forced to retire from competing (aged 22) in international Karate due to a serious knee injury; and would go on to manage the early professional boxing career of British heavyweight boxer, Dillian Whytepromote the UK’s first ‘hybrid’ combat sports event; and much more over the last 21 years.


With the UFC returning to London on March 17, 2018 at UFC Fight Night 127, K1ANOOP interviewed Joe Long for his perspective on the development and current state of niche combat sports (especially MMA) in the UK. Back in July 2002 when the promotion initially arrived for UFC 38: Brawl at the Hall, it was the first time that the UFC had hosted an event outside of the USA which, would undoubtedly impact the strong growth of MMA in the UK. A healthy volume of British fighters has since emerged on the world stage including: former UFC middleweight champion, Michael Bisping and former Bellator light-heavyweight champion, Liam McGearyThe evolution of British based MMA promotions, most notably: BAMMA and Cage Warriors, has also been impressive to witness; and provides British MMA athletes with more opportunities of making a viable sporting career too.

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The Joe Long interview took place at The Troxy in East London which, had survived ‘The Blitz’ during World War 2 and was recognised by English Heritage as being a Grade 2 listed building in 1991. The Art Deco designed venue which, has been entertaining Londoners since the 1930s, was once England’s largest cinema and in recent decades, has been hosting a variety of combat sports events too. Spending an hour and a half with Joe towards the end of February and having a candid conversation with him about his vast experiences and plentiful stories resulted in a YouTube mini documentary interview (playlist) series with Joe Long; sharing his stories from the last 21 years including: the UFC, Bellator, GLORY Kickboxing and so much more from the world of Kickboxing, Karate and MMA.

In this first instalment of articles derived from the Joe Long mini documentary interview, we discuss his relationship with Bellator and their CEO Scott Coker which, initially seemed to be heading in a very positive direction for both parties (but would badly disintegrate). As well as his opinion on how and why Bellator have not been anywhere near as successful in the UK compared to their closest/biggest rivals, the UFC.

Joe Long says Bellator have “diluted the brand” via BAMMA partnership

In 2014 and then 2016, GLORY Kickboxing were supposed to have returned to the UK and Fighters Inc were ready to facilitate GLORY’s return as they had done for GLORY 5 London, only for both of these proposed return-events falling through in the final stages, according to Long. Following the first and very costly mishap for Fighters Inc with GLORY, Long and Alderson had been in-talks with other global promotions as a precaution and when GLORY again didn’t complete, Bellator MMA would take the date and The O2 Arena via Fighters Inc instead, resulting in Bellator 158.


“Scott Coker came over here, see the arena. Fell in love with the arena and said that they wanted to do the show. They’ll either run it as their own show or they’re gonna sub-license the promotion out. Either way they wanted the date.”

“So we was running a lot of shows with the The O2. We literally booked the whole of The O2. We couldn’t sub-licence it because to would’ve been too much money for us to sub-licence it. Another company sub-licenced it and they run the Bellator show as part of the SENI weekend. We were supposed to do a hell of a lot that never happened through no fault of our own.”


“However, we were responsible for bringing that show to the UK, whether it was sub-licence or not, we was the ones that opened the door and got them in-front of the UK audience and the arena and secured them the arena. So that was the Bellator story and then; I’ve got to say, really let down by Scott Coker, really let down. Talking about Dillian Whyte – a bit of a downtime in my career – same with Scott Coker.”

“Everyone talks so highly of Scott and he is without doubt very professional. However, he didn’t – as far as I’m concerned – didn’t fly straight with the UK market.”

“The last show that they did in London, Fighters Inc were supposed to be working on that on a full-time basis and it never come to fruition. We was told we had a deal and it never come to fruition; and when I say we had a deal, I got a phone call off Scott Coker on New Year’s Day that year; saying we’ve got a deal, we wanna work with you; then it just went quiet for so many months. Never heard from him.”


“It was really weird, it was almost like there was other people involved trying to again that mentality of block us out. Whether or not that happened, I don’t know. whether it was Scott’s own decision, I don’t know. Whether or not it was Viacom’s decision, I don’t know but we as Fighters Inc were promised a gig from Scott Coker, to do the promotion – same sort of thing as GLORY – for Bellator for the London show and that never come to fruition.”

“Scott knows we were disappointed with him. I’d say the same thing to you on camera as I’d say to Scott on the phone or to his face. We felt let down and that was a kick in the teeth, last year, year before – kick in the teeth.”

“Our PR person actually done the PR for them for the whole show but we didn’t get to do what we was told we were going to do, which was; execute different marketing, staffing etc etc. So the relationship with Bellator kind of went its own way. But then you know, Scott invited Paul [Alderson] and I to the show. Went and watched the show, great show, I enjoyed the show.”

“I think the brand is a great brand but I also think that they’ve made the wrong moves in the UK with Bellator. I think they’ve diluted the brand by what they’ve done with BAMMA, personally that’s what I think.”

“As far as I’m concerned, Bellator’s the second biggest MMA brand in the world. You should be coming over here doing what UFC done and that’s actually what excited us as a a company that someone else was coming to the UK; with a great promoter as I say he’s a great promoter, Scott. But they didn’t for us do what they said they’d do and we felt kinda let down by that.”

How Bellator could re-strategise their marketing in the UK and Ireland

For someone with 21 years experience in sports marketing to complain about the (lack of) communication skills at one of the biggest MMA promotions in the world which, just happens to be owned by a global media conglomerate in Viacom, is very alarming indeed. Usually, this kind of problem is something that one would stereotypically expect to find with an inexperienced small-scale promoter on a local/domestic scene, lacking resources.


If MMA is to continue developing as the fastest growing sport in the world then surely the leading MMA promotions who, are fortunate enough to be their own media companies (Viacom also own Spike TV which is Bellator’s broadcasting partner), should have much better lines of communication both internally and externally?

“BAMMATOR” – Bellator’s partnership with BAMMA in both the UK and Ireland, has so far involved three co-promotions from, February 2017 to March 2018 but unless Bellator were to takeover BAMMA is this really the best branding exercise Scott Coker can be executing in the UK let alone Europe?

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Nevertheless, in an interview with Peter Carroll, Bellator featherweight James Gallagher who, fights out of SBG Irelandmade some strong but fair points of view that correlate with some of what Joe Long had to say about Bellator’s branding and marketing strategy in Ireland and the UK:

“Bellator definitely has it in their power to become the biggest international promotion when it comes to the European market, but they need to drop BAMMA if they want to do that. They need to come over here with a proper Bellator card and f**k all the rest of the mixing promotion stuff. If they put on their own card they can really show people what they’re about. BAMMA’s involvement takes away from Bellator.”

After all, how many British MMA fans were entirely happy with the initial announcements about the UFC Fight Night 127 London fight card earlier this year?