Viral Whittaker, inspired by Cuban great Kindelan, discusses his social media avalanche

Ben Whittaker’s in-ring flamboyance went viral last weekend, and one man was incredibly supportive of the West Brom star’s showmanship, his unfortunate opponent Khalid Graidia.

Whittaker’s antics have divided fans, some are outraged by his hands-down mockery and over-the-top gestures, while others think he is unbelievably talented. Regardless, Gradia was not offended and has shared a clip of Whittaker doing his thing on his own Instagram. 

“Honestly, it’s quite good feedback,” Whittaker said this week, discussing the fall-out of the fifth-round win over the Frenchman. “Usually I’m getting ridiculous stick, but a lot of people have warmed to it and liked it and even my opponent, fair play, we are talking on Instagram and he posted it because he loved it so much – I don’t know why – but at the moment it’s got 43m views [now more than 44m] and he keeps messaging me, ‘Brother, I’ve got another million views.’ At the end of the day, we’re both in good spirits and that’s what it’s about.”

Whittaker went viral with his display. It was just his sixth pro fight, but he has added well over 100,000 followers and now boasts more than half-a-million on Instagram.

With his social media sweeping up followers like a wave, another star reached out to him, Shakur Stevenson, who wrote his support for Whittaker on X.

“He’s a great fighter, definitely somebody I like to study, definitely someone I like to watch,” said Whittaker of his fellow Olympic silver medallist. “After the Olympics, he messaged me, he was in the same position as me, losing and getting the silver medal, so it’s good to see other boxers are in tune with me.”

But it’s not just Stevenson. So many people had something to say about Whittaker and what he was doing in the ring. Boxxer promoter Ben Shalom believes he has a superstar on his hands, potentially the biggest in world boxing, and Whittaker’s phone has not stopped buzzing since Saturday at Wembley. 

“It’s ridiculous if I’m honest,” Whittaker smiled. “People you look up to are following you and messaging you, liking your photos and videos, it’s crazy if I’m honest with you, but I don’t do it for that. I do it more for…It’s my style. It’s me expressing myself and it’s gone viral, so it’s good it’s gone viral, but keep your feet on the ground and move onto the next one.” 

Fighters find it increasingly difficult to resonate with the public. Floyd Mayweather called it relevance, whether you’re loved or hated, so long as people care, but Whittaker is running his own race, even though he has been inspired by those who came before him, including Floyd. Closer to home, there are parallels with Sheffield star Prince Naseem Hamed.

“Even the Naz thing, honestly, I never actually watched him as a kid,” admitted Whittaker. “It was more the ring walks and things like that, but I only watched him later on when I was at adidas and I wanted to do something with my ring walk and that worked. Skill-wise and boxing-wise it was Mario Kindelan, who beat Amir Khan [in the 2004 Olympic final], he was the first person that got me into the sport and made me think, ‘I want to box like him’ and he opened up my eyes… Then of course, Tommy Hearns, Pernell Whitaker and in today’s age Floyd Mayweather, they’re the ones that really got me into the sport.”

With Whittaker’s tactics, style and amateur pedigree, critics want to see him moved rapidly and up the light-heavyweight rankings. It is one thing doing what he did against Graidia, it’s another thing doing it when the levels go up.

“That’s what the critics are there for and they’ve all got their opinions,” acknowledged Whittaker. “But at the end of the day that was my sixth fight, it’s all about building but I believe I can do it against the best. I’ve been doing it against the top amateurs. I’ve been doing it in the Olympics, and that’s what it’s all about. When I get to the top and I do it against the top fighters, what can you say then? 

“It’s all about trying [new things] and trial and error. I do it in sparring, I’ve done it my whole amateur career, so I know I can do it. As of now, all it’s about is getting in there, getting active, getting my name known so I am a household name and hopefully start bringing in those world titles.”

Whittaker boxed in December and again in February. He’s endured a frustrating period on the side-lines and been ruled out for months at a time with injuries, but now he is hoping to stay busy through 2024.

“I had that stagnant part where I was getting injured, I’d perform well, then I’d go missing, it was a bit of a nuisance, but activity is key,” he added. “Get out as much as possible then hopefully in the middle or end of the year, hopefully get a title.”

Whittaker is trained by SugarHill Steward, but they did not get any work in for the Graidia fight as Sugar was working with Tyson Fury for his aborted bout with Oleksandr Usyk. That the heavyweight clash has had to be rescheduled for May means Steward and Whittaker won’t like do much for the next Whittaker bout, either.

“We’ve got a good thing where even when I wasn’t in camp with him I’d go over there for three weeks and do the rest of the camp with Joby [Clayton], so we kind of work like that anyway,” Whittaker explained. “We talk over the phone, I’ll send him some of my sparring and he’ll say, ‘Neaten up this, do this, do that’, and then Joby does the rest. It’s all good. As long as he [Steward] tweaks me a bit and I listen to my team, it’s fine.”

There has been a lot of hoopla about last weekend’s show. But Ben put it plainly, “I got the job done and on to the next one.”