“That’s heavyweight boxing, man,” sighed Whyte, the latest victim to an age-old phrase that does seem appropriate because he was four rounds into the most accomplished and controlled performance of a career best-known for brawls until whack, lights out. The absence of a screaming crowd only made the silence more eerie when it was clear Whyte was not getting up.
Like Joshua and Deontay Wilder inside the past 14 months alone, Whyte must now cope with the derision and the lack of the faith that comes with a knockout defeat in this madhouse of a division where absolutely everybody goes down, but only the bravest get back up.
It is worth remembering quite how close Tyson Fury was to being in Whyte’s current position when he clambered up from the canvas in the dying seconds of his first fight with Wilder. That is now a distant memory because of how one-sided Fury made the rematch – this is the hope that Whyte justifiably carries into a rematch with Povetkin, which promoter Eddie Hearn says is contracted.
3:34 ‘One of the best KOs I’ve ever seen’
0:36 ‘Go away and regroup’ – Tony Bellew and Natasha Jonas’ verdict
Who better to illustrate the eternal optimism of the heavyweight contender than Povetkin himself. Forty years young, his only two defeats in 39 fights came when he reached the top of the mountain to challenge Wladimir Klitschko then Joshua. Intermittently he produced a shockingly vicious knockout of David Price and beat Hughie Fury – perhaps British contenders will have had enough of the stone-faced Russian by now.
Just when Povetkin was finally being made to look his age, twice dumped on the seat of his pants and with a team of corner-men who were visibly in panic mode, he threw an uppercut from the fires of hell that won the fight against Whyte in a split-second. The best punch of a career that yielded a 2004 Olympic gold medal, Povetkin insisted, and suddenly he has never been hotter property.
The temptation will be to worry that Whyte’s elusive world title shot has vanished forever, blasted high into the Essex night by Povetkin’s thunderous fist, but such hopelessness does not exist in a heavyweight wonderland where a 40-year-old can lose four rounds, go down twice yet produce one moment of inspiration.
This is now an extraordinarily competitive upper echelon where wins are not easy to come by – Fury and Povetkin have been held to draws, Wilder was beaten, Joshua was dethroned but came back, Ruiz Jr was on top but only briefly. Oleksandr Usyk is unbeaten but may today look at his fight with the veteran Derek Chisora through a new lens.
3:50 Anthony Joshua’s verdict
Joshua’s ringside verdict was subtle but cutting. He questioned whether a 32-year-old battle-hardened and frustrated Whyte still had the necessary nastiness that had become his trademark.
“Does Dillian still have that instinct in him? Because the fight was called maximum violence,” Joshua asked.
“When he had the opportunity to take him out, I wanted to see that maximum violence.”
Whyte reasoning for failing to finish the job when Povetkin twice went down seemed sensible: “I didn’t rush him in the fourth round because he is dangerous – when he’s hurt he swings big punches.”
Joshua, of course, knows too well about the soul-searching that Whyte now faces. Somewhere over the Atlantic, Wilder has been quietly doing the same all year.
Povetkin raised an issue which Whyte must address when he said afterwards: “I was watching his fights and taking account that he was missing uppercuts from the left and right.”
Uppercut knockouts have led to Whyte’s only two defeats, to Joshua and Povetkin, and also saw him knocked down by Oscar Rivas.
“Now I’ll realise he’ll come up with the hook or uppercut,” Whyte reflected. “It’s a simple adjustment to make.”