I’m just being me – Ben Whittaker

Former 2020 Olympic silver medallist Ben Whittaker boxes for the fourth time as a professional this weekend, and he hopes it will be a springboard to a busy end of 2023.

Whittaker has suffered with a shoulder injury that has kept him from fighting as often as he would like, but boxes for the second time this year when he meets Slovakian Vladimir Belujsky in Manchester on Saturday.

“For me right now, it’s more about activity, keep getting in the ring, keep fighting all different styles of opponents so when I do get a world championship fight, I’m a veteran and I know what I’ll be coming up against,” Whittaker said yesterday. 

“With my background in the amateurs, I definitely can’t drag my heals but I know this is a different sport now [from the amateurs], so you can’t jump in headfirst. I think it’s finding that middle ground, and luckily enough I’ve got time on my side so I think, for me, it’s activity, keep putting on these performances and putting myself in those positions where the big fights are realistic.”

The 26-year-old talent has made an impact in his first three fights and he has divided opinion with his show-boating ways. Some have taken exception to his antics, while others have fawned over his skills and potential. Either way, he’s developing a relevance that not every fighter has. 

“Truthfully, it wasn’t the goal,” he said of the divisive nature of his showings so far. “But it’s working and to be fair, I’m just being me. A lot of people love it, a lot of people hate it, but the main thing is I just want them to tune in and witness my boxing, because my boxing is where it’s at.” 

Has he paid any attention to the noise; be it negative of positive?

“You can’t hide from it,” Whittaker admitted. “You get tagged in things [on social media] and stuff like that, but it goes in one ear and out the other if I’m honest. It doesn’t really faze me. I’m my own critic, and not only that, the only opinions that matter to me are my mum and dad so as long as they’re happy, that’s all that matters.”

Belujsky is not expected to put up too much opposition on Saturday, but Whittaker is not looking for acid tests at this stage. He wants to demonstrate development and improvement each time.

“It’s showing how professional I am,” he explained. “I don’t want to look like an amateur… With pitty-patty knockouts and the ref just waves it off. I want to slowly break them down and really look clinical and when I do finish them, people say, ‘Yeah, that’s a proper finish, that’s what we’ve been working on.’ That’s what I want to keep on developing.”

While Whittaker is again expected to impress in Manchester, and plenty have questioned Belujsky’s suitability as an opponent, Whittaker appreciates the significant target on his back. Victory over him insures a big next fight for whoever scalps him.

“This guy… All these people… it’s a lottery ticket for them…” Whittaker added. “They just swing one shot, hurt you and get you out, they could go into a bigger fight, so you definitely can’t overlook these type of guys and not only that but he’s had 16 fights, nine knockouts and only lost four, so that’s a decent record in my eyes and I need to make sure it’s 16 and five on Saturday.” 

Of course, Whittaker hopes the injuries remain firmly in the rear-view mirror but the loss of momentum was not impactful just on the fans, hoping to follow his rapid progress, but it was a frustration to him, too.

“It was,” Whittaker admitted. “A lot of people don’t like the way I talk but I talk like that because I train so hard, that’s my own worst nightmare [being injured]. I train so hard that it does get me to a point where I pick up injuries. I’ve got people around who say, ‘Listen, just calm it down a little bit, for a couple of days,’ or things like that. I’ve got the work ethic. I’ve got the mindset. I just need pulling back sometimes and when I get things right, I feel great.”

Coach SugarHill Steward was recently in Lawrence Okolie’s corner when the former WBO cruiserweight king was dethroned by Chris Billam-Smith in Bournemouth, and Whittaker has Hill as part of his team.

“We’ve got a great corner,” Whittaker concluded. “Firstly, I’m still with my old amateur coach Joby Clayton, he’s been with me since I first ever laced up gloves and I think it’s good to have someone who knows you in and out, and then I’ve got Sugar in, he’s got so much knowledge, so on fight week and fight night, he knows what to do in the corner, so I think it’s a good corner.”

Before we talk, someone at Boxxer passes the phone to Whittaker for this interview and they introduce Whittaker as a future Hall of Famer. Is that Whittaker’s ultimate aim?

“That’s what my coach has been telling me since I was a young kid, that’s what we’ve been aiming for and hopefully these are the right paths towards that goal,” Whittaker said.