WHEN Tyson Fury steps into the ring tonight he will take on a boxer who has recovered from far tougher blows than even the Gypsy King could land on him.
Dillian Whyte’s formative years would have floored lesser mortals for good.
Tyson Fury’s opponent Dillian Whyte has survived being shot in a gang war and stabbed three times
Dillian and Tyson Fury back when they were sparring partners
The British heavyweight saw his dad get his throat cut and was beaten by his father after his mother left him behind, aged two, in his childhood home in Jamaica to escape grinding poverty.
Even after Dillian joined his beloved mum in London at the age of 12, his turmoil did not end.
The 6ft 3in, 18st boxer, now 34, became one of the country’s youngest dads at 13, removed a bullet from his leg with pliers after being shot in a gang war and was stabbed three times.
It is fair to say then that facing Fury’s fists in a record £31million, all-British bout in front of 94,000 people at Wembley Stadium for the WBC crown is not the scariest situation he has been in.
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The undefeated Fury is the clear favourite, but his opponent, who has only lost twice in his professional career of 30 fights, is not to be underestimated.
Nicknamed The Body Snatcher, he is a former kickboxing champion and mixed martial arts fighter who put one amateur opponent in a coma.
Like Fury, 33, he has been suspended on the grounds of doping, having been banned for two years in 2012 for accidentally taking a prohibited stimulant.
Yet just being alive is a miracle, let alone having a shot at the ultimate boxing glory.
Dillian said this week: “I didn’t think I’d be alive after 20 or I’d be in prison doing charges for some murders or something crazy.
“I didn’t think I’d be alive because that was the lifestyle forced on to me because of the way I was brought up and the things I was exposed to.”
Born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, and one of 12 children, Dillian discovered early that life was not going to be easy.
His mum Jerroleen left for England in search of better-paid work as an NHS nurse. He stayed behind, living with another family.
She sent back money for her son, but the family kept it. He had to sell used bottle tops to buy food and later helped his dad on fishing trips.
Even though Dillian couldn’t swim, his dad once threw him overboard 200 yards from shore.
Dillian saw things children should not witness, including his dad having his throat cut during a card game.
He recalled: “He was winning and doing his thing and this guy came from behind and cut his throat.
“There was blood squirting everywhere. He still punched the guy and knocked him out. But he was bleeding everywhere and about to pass out.”
But rather than faint, his gutsy dad placed his winnings in his underwear, then wrapped a towel around his neck to stem the bleeding.
“My dad really was a crazy guy,” Dillian says.
After a decade away from his mum, she arranged for Dillian and his “bro” Dean to join her in Brixton, South London, following his brothers and sisters.
‘I FELT BAD, ASHAMED’
But that just led to more problems for the youngster, who had been denied an education in Jamaica and struggled in school here.
Not one to back down, he got into fights and ended up joining gangs.
Rivals attempted to stab him when Dillian rode on the bus through their area and he was shot in the leg when he strayed into nearby Clapham.
Rather than go to hospital, Dillian chose to pull out the bullet with a pair of pliers.
He says: “I took the bullet out and hid out. It was out of respect for my mum. I didn’t ever want to bring police to her house.”
In his late teens, Dillian found himself in prison in Bristol awaiting trial and facing up to 20 years behind bars after one too many fights.
A visit from his tearful mum made him realise he had to change his ways.
He said: “My older brother died and she was saying she didn’t want to lose another son.
“I looked at my mum’s face and the tears rolling down her cheeks and I felt bad, ashamed.”
There was another reason to quit gangs — parenthood.
Now with four kids, he said: “I was a dad at 13 years old, so I had to grow up a lot faster. When you become a dad it changes everything.
Where most kids were running around, I’m working two jobs and doing other things to get money to feed my children.
“There have been attempts on my life. I never want my family, my brothers, sister, my kids to go through these things.”
A job as a club bouncer was no safer. Dillian said: “I finished working at a club and came home and a guy jumped out of a bush outside my house and started letting off a submachine gun. I had to just run.”
He needed a better way to earn a living. Then a friend introduced him to kickboxing and he turned professional in his late teens.
He became European champion and fought in mixed martial arts, then found a passion for boxing.
In his first amateur bout, aged 20, he knocked out future heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua.
He won seven more fights and turned pro in 2011.
An impressive start was derailed a year later when he tested positive for a banned substance after a win against Hungary’s Sandor Balogh.
‘I’M A PRETTY RELAXED GUY’
He had used Jack3D, an energy supplement sold legally in Britain but banned for athletes due to its performance-enhancing ingredients.
An anti-doping panel accepted it was an innocent mistake, yet the boxer was banned for two years.
Unlike Tyson Fury, who has battled with alcohol use, Dillian is a clean-living athlete.
He says: “I’m a pretty relaxed guy. When I’m not training I just hang with my family.
“I’m not a party guy. I don’t smoke or drink. Alcohol just ain’t for me. I haven’t had a drink for 16, 17 years. It’s just discipline.”
Dillian keeps his love life private, but he has known Italian bodybuilder Carolina Pasquali for around five years, sharing her passion for fitness.
They are believed to have met at Loughborough University, where Dillian trained and she played rugby.
His dedication to big-fight preparation means Dillian is away from Carolina for long periods, and he told SE: “I’m not a better fighter for going away from my family, I am a better fighter now because I have so much more experience.
“I train and live properly.” Despite the years they spent apart, he is now extremely close to his mum, and said: “She is my hero. She is probably the strongest woman around.
“Brought up all 12 of us kids by herself and worked three jobs. She is a nurse but also used to be a dinner lady at school and a cleaner at night.
“My oldest sister, Debbie, is also a nurse working 12-hour shifts in Covid wards.
“They have seen so many bad things in this pandemic.
“So on my hard days I think about my mum and sister. Boxing is difficult, but they do much more exhausting work.”
His ascent to the top has only suffered two setbacks — the first when he lost to old rival Joshua in 2015 in a seventh-round knockout, then a defeat by Russian Alexander Povetkin two years ago.
Dillian’s bid for the world heavy-weight belt is long overdue.
Tyson has sparred with him and knows he deserves respect, admitting this week: “If I’m not on my A-game, that man will knock my head right off my shoulders.”
As they are on friendly terms, this is no grudge match, but the contender will try to put on a show for fans.
Dillian said: “Victory by any means necessary, I’ll do that. I’m not scared to take risks.
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“It means everything to fight in my home country for the world title. It’s massive.
“Me and him didn’t expect to be here — especially me.”
Dillian has been dating Italian bodybuilder Carolina Pasquali for around five years