With all the trappings of stardom Ben Whittaker turns pro with Boxxer and Sky Sports. Known for his skills, he has another less visible quality – grit. He speaks exclusively to John Dennen
OLYMPIC silver medallist Ben Whittaker was unveiled Wednesday as the latest signing for Boxxer and Sky Sports. Turning pro with all the trappings of stardom, Whittaker now has to prove he can deliver in the prizering.
A slick stylish boxer, Whittaker also possesses a less visible quality. Grit. He went to the Olympics carrying a damaged shoulder. “If you look back now you’ll see, especially the Brazilian [Keno Machado] fight and the Russian [Imam Khayaev] fight, all I used was my left hand. It was one of those things,” Ben told Boxing News.
Even entering the tournament at the Tokyo Games was a risk. He’d torn his rotator cuff. Whittaker had to consider whether he should delay the operation, box and potentially worsen an injury that could impact his career down the line, or miss out on his Olympics entirely.
“Rob and [the GB team] said listen you’ve worked a while to get to this point, you’re ranked in the world highly, if you perform on the day, you’ll medal. So I thought, ‘Hmm, shall I do it? Shall I not?’ And now look, I’m a silver medallist and I’ve got this platform. So the gamble was good,” Whittaker said. “I just thought to myself I’d probably look back and kick myself not going. And it’s the best thing I did because I’ve got this platform now.”
He made an impression at the Olympics, is still only 24 years old and intends to compete in exciting divisions, super-middleweight and light-heavyweight as a pro. There was intense interest from promoters in his signature when he got back from Tokyo. “First things first for me, I had to get my injury sorted,” he said. “Then the interest was crazy, I’m not going to lie. If you’d told me before the Olympics something like this would be happening, I’d have thought you were lying. But it’s humbling to be fair. When you saw me at the Haringey [Box Cup], a little kid like that, to where I am now, it’s good. But the journey don’t stop.
“It was weird, I’m just like a kid from West Midlands, Darlaston, nothing happens for us, so all this happening, people flying me out to New York and Miami, I thought, ‘What’s going on? This is weird.’ But it’s the times we live in now. It’s exciting but you can’t get too lost in it. I know who I am, I know what I’ve got to work on, I know where I want to be so I’ve just got to keep striving for that really.”
Signing with Boxxer was also something of a risk. Of course they have the backing of Sky Sports television but it’s still a relatively new promotional company. “I’m not going to lie, I’ve got big, big respect for Frank Warren, Eddie Hearn, Top Rank, all those type of people,” Whittaker explained. “But money does talk and they came with the right money, they came with the right plan and it is still a gamble because it’s still fresh. I’m sure it’s only been going six months properly. But I thought you know what in this game you’ve got to take gambles and I thought I’m the type of person who’s a controversial person anyway so if anyone’s going to take a gamble I will. I thought I’d give it a try.
“The plan was to be the face of the operation. If you look at history, everyone’s boxed on Sky.”
In another interesting move, he will train professionally with Sugar Hill Steward, the trainer of Tyson Fury. He wants to add the power-punching that’s characteristic of Sugar Hill’s approach to his repertoire. “Everybody knows me from the amateurs as a beautiful boxer. If you ask people I’ve sparred, I can actually bang,” he said. “Now I’m a pro I can take my time and I can break them down and I thought who’s got that style that he’s taught boxers before and if you look at super-heavyweights, who moves? Tyson Fury and he’s got him moving and punching now. If I add him with Joby [Clayton, his amateur club coach] who loves Cuban boxing, if I marry the two styles I’ll be a very hard man to beat.”
Whittaker knows that in professional boxing, fans like to see hurtful punching. “That’s what people want to see. If you start stinking out the place and there’s dancing for 12 rounds, people think, ‘What the hell is this kid doing?’ But I’m never going to lose my skill as well. Keep that but if I can add the knockouts it’ll happen,” he added.
While Whittaker is being built for stardom, Sugar Hill will no doubt be hard on him. “That’s what I want. I remember watching the Tyson Fury fight and in the corner he was swearing, all he kept saying was throw the effing jab, throw the effing jab and I thought it’s very simple but it got through to him. That’s all you need sometimes in the corner – the simple instructions that are going to work,” Ben said. “You need that. You don’t want a yes man in the corner.
“At the end of the day, he is a winner, I’m a winner and you need winners around you with that mindset.”