His mum wanted him to be a ballet dancer, but Ben Whittaker was always going to fight.
He was steered into dance classes as a child. “Ballroom, ballet, hip hop, samba, everything you can think of,” he told Sky Sports. “It got to point where these tights in ballet, I wasn’t really feeling it.
“It was my mum who started me first. She didn’t really want me to fight.”
Whittaker always saw a future for himself in boxing rather than ballet. “I’m not going to lie, I look beautiful in the ring, compared to some people I’ve got real twinkle toes, but when I was in that ballet room I had two sandbags in my feet. I was stomping out the room,” he laughed.
“I don’t think I’d have got into any schools or anything like that.”
The choice certainly paid off for him. As an amateur boxer he twice won national senior titles. He was a decorated international, winning a bronze medal at the World championships, silver at the European Games and famously silver at the Olympic Games last year.
That led to him being signed by professional promoter BOXXER and broadcaster Sky Sports.
“It helped me. That’s why I’ve got these twinkle toes. I’ve got good footwork. [Vasiliy Lomachenko] did some type of dancing, so it does work definitely,” Whittaker said. “I just fell into boxing and it worked. Boxing called for me.”
Movement is a characteristic of his boxing style. He is elusive, hard to hit but accurate with his counter-punches. As a new professional though, due to have his first pro fight on July 30, he is looking to evolve that style.
“You’ve got to hurt them and knock them out type of thing [in professional boxing]. It’s a cruel business, you’ve got to entertain the fans,” Whittaker said.
“As soon as you lose, that’s it, so I’ll always keep my style, I’ll always keep who I am but if there is a bit of excitement I can add or get in a little bit of a ruck, I’ll try and do it. Not only that, I like it.”
To that end he has joined up with new trainer SugarHill Steward.
“I know there’s things I need to learn, there’s things I need to add, he can add those things. And he’s been around people like Adonis Stevenson, the Furys, even back in the day at his old gym [the famous Kronk] he’s been around Tommy Hearns,” Whittaker said.
The legendary Hearns, tall and thin for his weight but still an explosive puncher, is a model Whittaker wants to emulate.
“We’ve been watching a lot of Tommy Hearns. He’s got a beautiful jab. Even though he used to stand there and fight a lot, his older fights he used to box really nice, skip round the ring, beautiful jab, speed. So he wants to get that part of Tommy Hearns in me,” Whittaker said.
“The part of Tommy Hearns where sometimes he goes ‘alright’, stands there, hurts them, that’s what the fans want to see. It’s part of boxing, they don’t want to see just 12 rounds of dancing.”
That element, the Kronk way, Whittaker wants to add to his style. “He [SugarHill] said you’re so fast, there’s no need to be fast all the time. Sometimes slow it down and the speed will come. It sounds weird but it does make sense. With that slowing down I get more purchase on my punches, get more accuracy and that’s when you start hurting them,” Whittaker said.
But he was most impressed by seeing the way Steward handled WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.
“Truthfully, it wasn’t what he did in that [second Deontay Wilder] fight, it was the way he talked. I remember in the corner in the third fight, Tyson Fury wasn’t using his jab and he started swearing – ‘use your effing jab’ and I thought you know what, I like that honesty. You need a corner to keep it basic and I really liked that,” Whittaker explained.
“He said when he’d seen Tyson Fury’s style, it’s a bit like mine, it’s a bit weird, unorthodox, but then look what he did to it. He kept his unorthodox-ness but had a plan with it. So I kind of like what he did. I thought if I can add that too, I’m laughing.”
Whittaker’s determination to reach elite level is clear and he’s willing to move quickly. He’s already called for a British light-heavyweight title challenge in around five fights’ time. That would be very early in his career for such a contest.
“It rubbed some people up the wrong way but I don’t get it, because I’m ambitious, I want these type of fights,” Whittaker said. “Truthfully it doesn’t really matter who it was. I just called out Dan [Azeez] because he had the title.”
“It’s business at the end of the day,” he added. “Whoever had the title, I would have called them out.”
The British light-heavyweight scene is vibrant at the moment. Fighters like Azeez, Joshua Buatsi and Anthony Yarde are all potential future opponents Whittaker will be looking at.
“[Azeez] would be a good fight, a good name,” Whittaker said. “The domestic level’s really good, you’ve got him, Buatsi, Yarde, there’s so many names to tick off the list, it’s a good time.”
London’s Yarde is looking to press his claim as the mandatory for one of the belts fearsome champion Artur Beterbiev holds. But Whittaker can already see what an exciting blend of styles a contest with Yarde could be.
“I wouldn’t be in the sport if I didn’t think I would [beat him]. And I think, truthfully, they can all punch, they can all come forward, but I don’t think anyone at the weight category has my style, my speed, my reflexes, so I think I’d be a problem for all of them. So I don’t think they would like to fight me. They wouldn’t fight me because there’s nothing on the line,” he said.
“That’s the type of fighter I think I am. I’m too much of a risk, especially now. They’d only want to fight me if I’ve got something to offer, like a title and things like that. All I can do now is tick off the boxes and wait until something comes for me. And I’ll be there with open arms.”
Ben Whittaker joins the latest episode of the Toe2Toe podcast. Listen here