Alexander Povetkin knocked out Dillian Whyte with a stunning uppercut in the fifth round Saturday to shatter Whyte's hopes of fighting for the WBC world heavyweight title next year.
As the WBC's highest-ranked contender, Whyte looked to be on course to secure a shot at the winner of the 2021 bout between heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder after dropping Povetkin twice in the fourth round. But at 40, Povetkin remains a lethal puncher, and a sweet left uppercut put Whyte onto his back for a shock defeat 30 seconds into Round 5 at a crowdless event in the garden of promoter Matchroom's office headquarters in Essex, England.
It was totally unexpected -- Povetkin was on the brink of defeat in the fourth round and had shown no hint of threatening Whyte. Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn said he will now try to secure a rematch for Whyte, but his long wait for a WBC world title shot just got longer.
"I can't quite believe it," Hearn said. "When the punch landed I felt like I was in a dream. After two knockdowns I felt it was over, but this is the drama of heavyweight boxing and one punch completely changed the fight.
"We have a rematch clause, and the first thing Dillian said to me was, 'Get me that rematch.' ... We'll exercise that rematch clause. We'll look to make that before the end of the year, and it's a huge fight. He will rematch Alexander Povetkin and bring his No. 1 position back to life."
The winner of Fury and Wilder could now go directly into a mega-money fight against Anthony Joshua, the WBA-IBF-WBO world champion, to decide the undisputed world heavyweight champion next summer. The WBC confirmed earlier this week that if Whyte beat Povetkin, the winner of Fury-Wilder III had to fight Whyte next in 2021.
"One of the stumbling blocks was the mandatory of Dillian Whyte. Povetkin will not be for called for that mandatory, so it frees up AJ to fight the winner of Fury-Wilder," Hearn said.
Joshua (23-1, 21 KOs), 30, from England like Fury and Whyte, fights Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev at a rearranged date in December yet to be confirmed, while no date has been announced for Fury-Wilder 3.
Jamaica-born, South London-based Whyte (27-2, 18 KOs), 32, had been the leading contender for the WBC for more than 1,000 days; now he faces a longer journey to a first world title shot. Whyte badly needed a better night than his previous ring outing, in December, when he weighed a career heaviest and was sluggish in a points win over Mariusz Wach. Whyte was cleared of a doping violation on the eve of the fight.
He was nearly 19 pounds lighter for Povetkin and a lot more muscular. On paper, Povetkin (36-2-1, 25 KOs) was Whyte's toughest assignment since he finished flat on his back following a right uppercut from English rival Joshua five years ago. The Russian boxer has been among the world's heavyweight elite for a decade, and has twice lost world title attempts, against Joshua (2018) by seventh-round stoppage and Wladimir Klitschko (2013) on a wide points decision.
But Povetkin never looked a threat Saturday until the fifth round. His timing was off in the third round as he was continually caught by the jab and Whyte comfortably blocked his attacks to the body. Whyte targeted the body late in the third and looked to be in total control as he landed two right hands and a short left hook to drop the Russian to a knee for a count. Povetkin was down again late in the fourth when Whyte landed a left uppercut, and it seemed the fight was going in one direction only.
But early in the fifth, Povetkin uncorked a sweet left uppercut that left Whyte laid out on his back.
"I didn't feel I would finish the fight like this," Povetkin said through an interpreter. "I went down twice, but it was OK, not too much damage. I was watching his fights and I was thinking he was missing uppercuts from left and the right, so I was training for it. It's probably one of my best-ever punches."
Taylor beats Persoon in another close fight
Katie Taylor might have beaten Delfine Persoon more convincingly in their rematch, but it was another close and brutal fight to decide the undisputed world lightweight champion.
Taylor retained her WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO titles via unanimous decision with scores of 98-93, 96-94 and 96-94 in the Whyte-Povetkin co-main event. ESPN had Taylor winning 96-94.
Taylor (16-0, 6 KOs), 34, from Bray, Ireland, said she felt she erased any doubts after a debated, majority decision win over Persoon in New York in June 2019.
"I knew it was going to be a tough, tough fight, it was never going to be easy," Taylor said after the fight. "I knew I had to dig deep at some point, I thought I boxed a lot better than last time, I stuck to my boxing a lot more even though I got drawn in a couple times, but for the most part I stuck to my boxing this time and that's what got me the win. I got drawn in a couple times.
"You can't relax against Delfine, you have to attack all the time. I think it was a lot more convincing this time. It was never going to be easy. I was always going to have to show my heart."
Persoon (44-3, 18 KOs), 35, who combines her boxing career with a full-time job as a police officer in her native Belgium, said she wanted to put right an injustice in one of the biggest, high-quality bouts women's boxing will see this year. But Persoon, who thinks she suffered a broken nose in the second round, had no complaints about the decision this time around and says she will now target the junior lightweight division.
"I've got no problem with the result," Persoon said. "My respect to Katie, she deserves it. I didn't have enough power to hurt her this time. I couldn't [hurt] her this time and then it's technical. Super featherweight is more my weight than lightweight."
It was a fight worthy of the biggest stages in boxing, like Madison Square Garden, where they met last year, but instead took place in a garden without fans present. Both have had outstanding boxing careers to this point, and their legacies were assured before their rematch. Persoon had reigned for 4½ years before Taylor beat her in 2019, and the Irish star was a gold medalist at the 2012 Olympics and is No. 2 in ESPN's women's pound-for-pound rankings.
Taylor, who had prepared for this fight in Vernon, Connecticut, since January, is more of a boxer than Persoon and that was quickly evident in a good start by the champion. Taylor maintained her distance while scoring with quick combinations and staggered Persoon with a great left hook early in the first round. Persoon had a swelling under her right eye by the second round as Taylor picked her off with immaculate boxing.
But the fight swung the other way in the third round as Persoon disrupted Taylor's rhythm by looking to clinch and caught her with unpredictable, arching punches. Taylor was drawn into a brawl, exactly what she said she would not do again against Persoon, and the fourth round belonged to the challenger. Taylor was cleverer in the fifth round, landing a couple right hands and a left hook that jolted Persoon's head back.
Persoon was in excellent condition. The Belgian's punch volume and work rate looked to have earned her the sixth round as she got through with a left to the body and a left-right combination. Persoon's nonstop pressure prevented Taylor from boxing fluently, and Taylor instead had to snatch at combinations out of clinches to try to earn points.
The pressure and the clinches took their toll on Taylor, slowing her down and leaving her fatigued in the later rounds, and she was caught flush with a right hand in the eighth round. Persoon, crucially, was relentless in stalking Taylor in the ninth and 10th rounds and the champion just did not have enough energy or room to get her punches off. Taylor was still able to land a quality right cross in the ninth before finishing strong in a last toe-to-toe tussle of a 10th round.