Ben Whittaker approaches boxing with a “real life WWE” mantra. He understands and relishes the theatre, but appreciates and adheres to the business, strutting into the professional ranks bearing signs of a veteran delicacy to flick the switch between flashy salesman and steely-eyed technician.
He peacocks for the cameras and showers himself with compliments because he believes he works hard enough to vindicate it all in the ring, he will raid food buffets and feast on his mum’s cheesy potato pie as his favourite cheat meal because he knows he will burn it off.
Behind the brash talk and the bravado lies 3am runs, 6am swims and an Olympic silver-medalist who has kept humility up his sleeve amid a rise stuffed with success-bound projections and predictions.
Whittaker recently committed his future to BOXXER and Sky Sports as widely-coveted property at the top of the amateur class, shouldering the pressure as one of British boxing’s most gifted and compelling prospects. It is as though he is used to it all.
|Birthplace||Darlaston, United Kingdom|
|Amateur record||53-12 (two KOs)|
“I’m the face of the sport. I’ve got the skills, I’ve invested in myself with people like SugarHill [Steward] so I’m taking it serious and if you want a bit of charisma, a bit of controversy, I’m the man for that,” he told Sky Sports.
“When I came in the gym, I was told I was going to be a star so I said ‘I will be a star’. Today people are saying I’m going to be a star, and I will be a star.
“At the light heavyweight division, who have you seen with dynamic speed, skill, power, the looks, the tallness, the reach, you tell me who else has got that at the light heavyweight division. I’ve got it all really.
“I talk a bit of rubbish really but I know I can back it up. That’s why I talk like this.”
‘Biggest announcement since Khan’
The unveiling of Whittaker’s first professional deal came in suarve underground surroundings likened to a James Bond-type location by trainer SugarHill Steward.
Between the DJ in attendance, the cleverly-crafted trailer preceding Whittaker’s emergence and camera-pleasing arm-fold on stage, the dedicated background graphics depicting BOXXER’s shredded new signing and the teaser session on the pads with Steward, it set the tone for a ready-now disruptor.
Such is the desire to get him up and running that BOXXER CEO Ben Shalom says Whittaker will be fighting in early July with a view to competing five or six times a year.
“He knows off the back of last week that he made a very, very good decision for his career and we got to see how big he can be,” said BOXXER CEO Ben Shalom.
“We’ve always said he’s going to be a marmite character but it seems like the fans are really happy and everyone was just happy to see another potential star and really warmed to him. He seems extremely popular.
“I don’t think we’ve ever seen a pro debut announcement like that, maybe not since Amir Khan. I think there was that sort of noise around it that you never see.
“It’s the start of what’s going to be a very, very high-profile career.”
Already he has outlined his intentions to strip Dan Azeez of his British light heavyweight title within five fights. He has no plans to hang around.
‘The talent of Roy Jones’
Whittaker has vowed to become a multi-weight champion, sought to leave a staple-of-British-boxing legacy like a Chris Eubank or Nigel Benn, and nourish the foundations for others as a gold-medal-winning Anthony Joshua did for him.
Frazer Clarke captained Whittaker as part of the Great Britain boxing set-up, and is as qualified as anybody to warn against misinterpreting the showmanship. By now, he admits he finds himself looking up to Whittaker.
“He can do everything. He’s a good-looking guy, he can talk, he can rap, I’m pretty sure he can dance,” laughed Clarke.
“The good thing about Ben is his prime focus is always the boxing. Even when I was captain if I had to have a word with a few different people, with Ben you let him carry on with all that stuff, I know his prime focus is boxing and improving and winning.
“I don’t want to put no pressure on him, but I was watching that Canelo-Bivol fight and the crazy styles. Eventually Ben will be that level.
“Ben can compete with the trickiest style in the world, he can do whatever. He’s so diverse, he can do anything in boxing.”
During the short workout at his signing announcement Whittaker displayed the fleet-footed sweet science advocacy that has contributed to his reputation entering the pros, while offering a glimpse at the power-punching at the root of his decision to seek out Steward’s expertise.
“I have to really respect him because he’s laid the foundations for me, he’s got me in this position getting his gold medal. He carried on the funding, him and the others. He’s given me good advice, we’ve broken stuff down, if I ever need him he’d call me. It’s good to take on the things he says but I have to be my own man.”
The Kronk Gym great, credited for playing a starring role in unlocking Tyson Fury’s knockout prowess against Deontay Wilder and Dillian Whyte, has compared his newest protege to another former Olympic entertainer-turned-icon.
“Ben has the talent and the showmanship of a Roy Jones,” Steward said. “He loves the people, he loves entertaining and that’s why I chose him. I said that because Roy Jones came out of the Olympics and Ben Whittaker has come out of the Olympics.
“Similar weight, but that charisma, character, that drive, both of these guys have it.”
Steward in his element
While Whittaker welcomes Saturday night’s bright lights and pyrotechnics, Steward is at home cultivating his newest project around a make-shift ring in a bricked Bond-like basement.
It is a relationship with quirky contrasts similar to that of Steward’s bond with Fury, the former Detroit police officer having been the most uninterested man inside Wembley when it came to the electricity of 94,000 fans serenading the Gypsy King upon his UK homecoming against Whyte.
“I love it, this is it for me, it’s just like me taking an amateur from the first day of walking into the gym and being able to mould him into what he wants to be and helping him on his journey,” Steward told Sky Sports.
“The things he thinks about and the things he wants to accomplish, it’s about me being able to see those things.”
He first met Whittaker in Hollywood, Florida as the pair visited Warriors Boxing Gym while spending the week taking walks, going out for dinner and plotting their assault on the sport.
Steward was sounding out desirable traits in Whittaker as much as Whittaker was assessing his compatibility and potential with Steward. In the end, it felt right.
“He was very happy with what I was teaching him and I was happy with how he absorbed the information,” said Steward.
“The look on his face when he learned something new and how he was able to use it, how he practised it over and over again, that was very similar to how I train fighters. Repetition. Ben had no problem with that.
“What I look for is a fighter’s determination, that’s got to be No 1 for me. I know a lot of people say heart, but if you’ve got heart you’ve got determination. Without determination, you’ll walk away.
“If somebody has got determination to succeed and put everything into it that’s one of the main things you should be remembered for, that ability to learn and take criticism and use it to get better. Not just better in boxing, this is better in life. There are other things in life these boxers need to learn.”
Beyond the excitement and the soaring expectations, Whittaker knows the “show goes on”.