Tyson Fury-Dillian Whyte fight mired in controversy

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By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist

Boxing has always been masterfully creative in generating interest in its big fights, playing up storylines to the max and using any means necessary to get people talking.

There’s been both real and imagined beef, outrageous promotional tour pranks, studio scuffles, boxers claiming they’re, uh, romantically involved with their rival’s girlfriend – you name it .

World heavyweight champion Tyson Fury once even showed up to a press conference wearing a Batman costume and started wrestling on the floor with a hired actor dressed as the Joker. Yet, as eerie as this scene is, it doesn’t rival the surreal nature of his fight this weekend.

On Saturday, Fury (31-0-1, 22 KOs) will face fellow Englishman Dillian Whyte (28-2, 19 KOs) in front of 94,000 fans at Wembley Stadium in London. However, the entire buildup was overshadowed by the name of a man who will not be in attendance, who is not a boxer and who denies being directly involved in the fight game.

Daniel Kinahanuntil recently remained a somewhat mysterious figure in boxing, regularly praised and photographed with elite fighters, and described as the founder of promotions firm MTK Global, which claimed a vast stable of top boxers.

There had long been rumors about Kinahan’s position in the organized crime underworld in his native Ireland, particularly after an exposé on his alleged illegal activities titled “Boxing and the Mob” was broadcast by the BBC l last year.

Last week, things took their most dramatic turn yet, when the The U.S. Treasury Department and the State Department have taken major action against what he called the Kinahan Organized Crime Group (KOCG), alleging that it is a “murderous organization involved in international drug and firearms trafficking” and money laundering.

A Treasury statement alleged Kinahan as head of the KOCG. He is accused of running his day-to-day operations from his headquarters in Dubai, buying large quantities of cocaine in South America, attempting to import drugs into the UK and allegedly carrying out murder-for-hire payments related to a murder committed on behalf of the KOCG. .

Meanwhile, the US government offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of each of Kinahan, his father Christopher Sr. and his brother Christopher Jr.

What does this have to do with Fury and defending his WBC world and lineal heavyweight titles? In fact, a lot.

As recently as February, Fury and Kinahan were photographed together in Dubai. Kinahan has often been publicly chosen as Fury’s “advisor” and last weekend Top Rank’s Bob Arum – Fury’s US promoter – admitted he paid Kinahan more than $4 million for four fights featuring Fury over the past few years.

MTK Global, formed by Kinahan and ex-boxer Matthew Macklin in 2012, recently claimed it was no longer associated with Kinahan. However, MTK fighters were regularly photographed with the alleged crime figure. On Monday, MTK Global CEO Bob Yalen resigned, citing pressure from government scrutiny. Wednesday the company announced that it was folding.

As part of the crackdown, American banks and, more relevant to boxing, American corporations, are now barred from doing business with Kinahan and his associates. A US government official also compared the alleged Kinahan gang to the infamous Japanese yakuza and the Italian mafia.

Everything forced Fury, a -500 favorite with FOX Bet against Whyte, on the back foot. He has alternately been humorously dismissive and thoroughly argued at a midweek press conference, saying that the action of the US government hasn’t registered him significantly because he “doesn’t lend pay attention to the media”.

As for the revelations about Arum’s payment, he said the 90-year-old veteran promoter could do “anything he wanted” with his money. Regarding his selfie with Kinahan? “A picture doesn’t mean I’m a criminal.” Tackle all the fuss? “He has [nothing] to do with me.”

The controversy is unlikely to negatively impact interest in the fight, in which Whyte – who lost to Anthony Joshua in 2015 and Alexander Povetkin in 2020 – is hoping to cause a major upset.

The sneakier side of boxing has long appealed to part of the fanbase, forming a kind of guilty pleasure. Likewise, dating back over a hundred years, the chance to be associated with the toughest men in sport (and, in the past, to manipulate fighting for the sake of gambling) has been irresistible to many crime figures.

“There’s a long history of boxing and the underworld and if we’re being honest, that doesn’t put people off at all,” USA TODAY Sports boxing writer Lance Pugmire told me. “It’s a serious sport where some of the glamor is associated with danger – both in the fights themselves and, at times, in the people involved.”

There was no need to artificially generate buzz about the fight this time around, as the Kinahan saga means it’s already on everyone’s lips. Whyte didn’t bother to show up for Wednesday’s media activities, but that didn’t really matter. He’s the B-side, though he’ll still claim $7.1 million to Fury’s $28 million.

Side A is Fury, although in this case he looks more like Side A less. Because the real star of the series, as disreputable and incriminating as it is, is the controversy. This is boxing, where anyone, anything, and even any criminal or government entity, can be drawn into the hype.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.


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