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‘Predictably unpredictable’ – Chisora the enigma

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Venue: O2 Arena, London Date: Saturday, 9 July
Coverage: Commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live; reaction on BBC Sport website & app from 22:00 BST.

“I listen to nobody. I am my own boss. I make my own decisions. I do what I want to do.”

Derek Chisora is like no other fighter. He is an enigma.

Whether it is a 12-round title fight, media conference or one-on-one interview, you never quite know which Chisora will turn up.

Before his fight with Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev this weekend – a rematch of their 2016 heavyweight bout – BBC Sport joined Chisora for a training session at a swanky gym in central London. He has had 12 losses in a 44-fight career.

We also speak to his former trainer, Dave Coldwell.

Chisora has been beaten by the best. He has pulled off sensational wins as the underdog. And he been defeated by some men he really should have beaten. But our aim is to find out who is the real Chisora?

The man who, win or lose, will dish out burgersexternal-link to his opponent’s team post-fight? Or the guy who threatens to shoot David Haye and flips tables at Dillian Whyte?

‘Chisora is like your crazy grandad’

Chisora (right) invited fans to take part in a game of musical chairs during Monday’s public workout, handing £500 to the winner

What we do know is that Chisora is predictably, unpredictable.

The 38-year-old has previously spoken about the tranquillity of living on a farm and his desire to raise a family surrounded by animals. He has also given reporters a tour of the farmexternal-link in north London.

But when asked about the farm now, he abruptly replies: “There is no farm. It was never my farm.”

Coldwell, who trained Chisora for three fights between 2019-2021, says you can always expect the unexpected from his former fighter.

“He’s almost like your crazy grandad,” he says. “He’s unpredictable and will do or say things which will make you go ‘oh my god’, but then at other times his demeanour is lovable and he’s a really a nice character.”

Referencing the time Chisora, bizarrely, told opponent Whyte he would “go through you like a laxative”, Coldwell adds: “That’s just Derek. Sometimes he nails it with his quirky little comments.

“But then other times it’s completely off the mark and you’re left scratching your head.”

A man proud of his African roots

Derek Chisora and Kubrat Pulev
Chisora (left) will meet Kubrat Pulev for the second time, having lost to the Bulgarian on split decision in 2016

In a gym not far from Victoria train station, Chisora sports a trademark Union Jack bandana as he is put through his paces by his team.

Midway through the session, ‘Del Boy’ strides over to his phone, hooked up to the sound system, and changes his workout music; ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’ by The Beatles is his go-to.

Chisora was born in Mbare, a suburb of the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, in 1983. He is proud to be British and embraces the culture, having moved to London as a teenager, but also reflects on his upbringing and African roots with pride and joy.

“Growing in Africa is not a bad thing,” he says. “It is the best thing ever. You enjoy yourself, being part of the African community.”

Chisora attended the prestigious Churchill Boarding School in Harare, though was not a boarder.

“It’s just love. People always say, if you’re not born in Europe you had a bad upbringing. No, Africa is the bomb. I’m telling you right now.

“I enjoyed myself growing in Africa. Hanging out with the whole street. It was never racial, the same colour.”

An entertainer with the ‘best product in the game’

Derek Chisora and Vitali Klitschko
Chisora (right) has only challenged for a world title once, losing on points to WBC champion Vitali Klitschko in Munich in 2012

In a career full of ups and downs, Chisora has lost valiantly to Tyson Fury, Oleksandr Usyk and Vitali Klitschko, suffered narrow points decision defeats to Whyte and Joseph Parker, and produced stunning knockouts against Carlos Takam and Artur Szpilka.

But, in the twilight of his career and on a three-fight losing streak, he is still one of the biggest draws in British boxing. His losses do not deter fans from buying tickets and despite his often antagonistic behaviour, promoters continue to present him with headliner opportunities.

“I only care to bring enjoyment to those hard working people in this beautiful nation of ours,” Chisora says, before sharing a tale of a binman who stopped to wave at him earlier that morning.

“I’ve got the best product in the game,” he adds. “There’s certain people in this boxing game who’s got this product. I can mention names. You’ve got myself, Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder – big attractions.”

Coldwell says Chisora’s willingness to fight the best, combined with a no-nonsense brawler style and a dedication to entertaining the British public, has naturally attracted an army of loyal British fight fans.

“That current three-fight losing streak is against some of the best in the world,” the trainer adds. “It doesn’t really matter to fans whether it’s a ‘W’ or ‘L’ at the end of the fight against his name.

“Are they liking what they’re seeing? Was it money well spent and did they enjoy the night? Yes to both. Derek gives you value for money. Whether he wins or loses, the fans always feel they have had a great night.”

Fines to fatherhood – has Chisora mellowed with age?

Throughout his career, Chisora has been embroiled in controversy outside of the ring.

In 2010, he was given a 12-week suspended prison sentence after being found guilty of assaulting his then girlfriend.

In just his fourth professional bout, he was fined £2500 and banned for four months after biting opponent Paul Butlin. He also kissed rival Carl Baker at a weigh-in.

In the build-up to his 2012 bout against Vitali Klitschko, surprisingly Chisora’s only world-title challenge to date, he slapped his opponent at the weigh-in and then spat water towards the champion’s brother, Wladimir Klitschko, moments before the first bell.

Then at the post-fight press conference, his scuffle with Haye resulted in a melee and both men having their boxing licences withdrawn by the British board. Haye won a grudge match in 2012, which was sanctioned by the Luxembourg Boxing Federation.

Despite his list of misdemeanours, Chisora would not change a thing about his boxing career.

“I can actually hold my hand to my heart and say, no regrets at all,” he says. “When I retire from this game, I will have no regrets.”

Coldwell believes Chisora has turned round “that bad boy image” he once had, and has “mellowed” with age and the responsibility of fatherhood.

“He’s still a big character but when you have kids, especially daughters, you do change, even if you don’t mean to,” Coldwell says. “You become a little more civilised. Think of the consequences more.

“You still don’t know what you’ll get with Derek, but in terms of flipping tables and things like that, he’s definitely mellowed. Somebody his age still being a nutcase and throwing tables, you’re kind of past it by his age.”

Chisora also stresses the importance of his family in keeping him grounded, and how he now leans on faith during times of need.

Speaking on fatherhood, he says: “If I go to a restaurant, they come with me. If I go to a wedding they come with me. They go everywhere with me. We do everything together.”

He adds: “God is great. That is it man. God is great, faith is great. Christian, Muslim – as long as you’ve got something, faith, you respect, it’s amazing.”

The mystery remains

Chisora partakes in an intense circuit session; from high repetition weight training to cardio on a mounted bike – each exercise lasts three minutes, emulating a round of boxing.

BBC Sport are hastily ushered back into the gym studio by Chisora’s management towards the end of his session. We are told they need him to give him one last push in training and that Chisora always increases the intensity when the cameras are on. He is a showman who thrives off an audience.

While entertaining fans is a priority, it comes at a cost – notably for his promoter, Eddie Hearn.

“The goal is money,” Chisora says unashamedly. He says it always has been.

“Everything we do in this world is for money,” he adds. “You don’t go to work, you don’t get paid. The wife wants a new Phantom Rolls Royce, the bills have to be paid. Petrol’s gone up.”

Attention turns to the future. He teases us by saying he could fight five more times and reach his half-century.

“I’m not going anywhere soon,” he adds. “There’s so many fights for me right now. So many.”

Once retirement beckons, Chisora plans to discard of all his belts, gloves, clothing and boxing equipment in a burning ceremony.

“I’ll burn everything. Bonfire Night,” he says. “What’s the point? People say they’ve retired and come back.”

He takes a pause, before adding: “I think I’ll retire and come back. You never know.”

Farm or no farm? Retirement or no retirement? After an hour with Chisora, we learn a lot. But are still left with more questions than answers.

The mystery remains.

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