The double life of British boxing continued in typically surreal and jolting fashion on Wednesday afternoon at Wembley Stadium.
A strictly controlled and initially respectful press conference to publicize Tyson Fury’s world heavyweight title defense against Dillian Whyte on Saturday night began less than an hour after the controversial boxing management company MTK Global confirmed it will cease operations at the end of this month. MTK had been founded in 2012, under the original name of MGM, by the notorious Daniel Kinahan who has been under investigation for years amid allegations that he leads to a drug cartel.
Last week the US Treasury imposed stringent sanctions on Kinahan and offered a $5m reward for information that would result in his arrest and conviction on a long list of serious criminal charges. The US government also warned that anyone in boxing who retained ties with Kinahan would be implicated. Fury and hundreds of boxers in Britain are known to have had close working relationships with Kinahan in recent years. Many of these fighters have traded under the MTK banner.
Once the gravity of the US government response to Kinahan emerged the already deeply scarred boxing landscape began to crumble. The demise of MTK is no surprise as its statement on Wednesday afternoon confirmed: “Since leading promoters have now informed us that they will be severeing all ties with MTK and will no longer work with our fighters, we have taken the difficult decision to cease operations at the end of this month … our priority in the weeks ahead will be to ensure that our world-class boxers are supported to find new partnerships.”
Thirty-six hours earlier Bob Yalen, MTK’s chief executive, had announced his resignation. Yalen, who had worked with the company since 2018, said: “The pressure of the last few weeks has been particularly intense. I need to consider the impact on myself and my family.”
Yalen is an American and he had been shaken by the intervention of the US government and their law-enforcement agencies.
Meanwhile Fury had stressed to the media, during an open workout on Tuesday afternoon: “It’s none of my business … it’s got nowt to do with me.”
When pressed to discuss MTK, with the company yet to announce its imminent closure, Fury also denied that he retained any links with the organization. “I have never been sponsored by MTK ever,” he said. When reminded that he used to be part of the MTK stable and had worn their logo, he responded bluntly. “That was from 2017 until 2020. Three years and that was it. Donate. End of.”
There was no mention of MTK’s collapse at his press conference with Whyte. Instead, the heavyweights praised each other and spoke relatively fondly and amusingly of how they had worked together at three of Fury’s training camps – starting in 2012. “He’s a good fighter,” Fury said. “A good, strong, solid man. He has a good punch with good power. He’s knocked out lots of men. He definitely needs a lot of respect.”
It was only at the end of the media conference that a more usual sense of heavyweight chaos returned when John Fury, Tyson’s belligerent father, started shouting and threatening Dean Whyte, the challenger’s brother. The two real fighters, Fury and Whyte, stepped in to act as peacemakers.
“Tyson’s dad needs to relax,” Whyte said afterwards. “I told him: ‘John calm down, you’re an adult. You keep shouting and screaming like a child, relax. This is my and your son’s day. Old man, take it easy.’”
Twenty minutes later Whyte was less relaxed as, on the Wembley pitch, he became involved in an extremely tense exchange with Mauricio Sulaimán, president of the WBC. Whyte believes the WBC has favored Fury unfairly as its champion and broken its own rules. He will receive only 20% of the fight purse, which is a record $41,025,000 (£31m), and Whyte insists he will eventually win his dispute with the WBC and Fury’s team at the court of arbitration for sport.
Sulaimán defended Kinahan robustly this month – only to make a complete U-turn this week as he absorbed the shock of the US sanctions against the exiled Irishman who is based in Dubai and continues to deny all wrongdoing.
Fury met a small group of British boxing writers after the official press conference, where no journalists had been allowed to ask any questions. He was invited to comment on MTK but his promoter, Frank Warren, intervened swiftly to say that all related queries had been “dealt with yesterday”.
There was no such respite for MTK Global. “As a business we have faced unprecedented levels of unfair scrutiny and criticism since the sanctioning by the US government of Daniel Joseph Kinahan,” its statement claimed. “It is a matter of public record that Mr Kinahan’s involvement in MTK ceased in 2017, and, despite repeated reassurances in this regard, unfounded allegations about his ongoing association with us and our fighters persist.”
Yet in May 2020 Sandra Vaughan, who was Yalen’s predecessor, said in an interview that Kinahan advised fighters to sign management deals with MTK and operated as an independent adviser to some of their boxers. MTK also released a statement in 2020 that delighted in a new partnership between Kinahan and the Dubai-based KHK Sports, which had appointed him as its special adviser: “This is a monumental move for KHK Sports and MTK Global. Both organizations have been making substantial waves in the international combats sports landscape and, combined, the sky is the limit in what they can achieve.”
The sky has now fallen in on MTK and other boxing companies and individuals might suffer a similar fate in the coming weeks. In the meantime, as the net tightens around Kinahan and his associates, the small matter of a world championship scrap between Fury and Whyte will break out at Wembley late on Saturday night. “We’re going to treat you all to a hell of a barnstormer,” Fury promised.