Ben Whittaker showboating his way to the top

Boxing

As Ben Whittaker steps into the ring at London’s Bronx Boxing Gym ahead of his media workout on Thursday, heads instantly turn to get a glimpse of England’s latest rising star.

Whittaker (6-0 5 KOs) is used to turning heads now. His last fight in February propelled him to international fame, not because of the fashionable knockout he scored against Khalid Gradia — but for his showboating and extravagant style.

Hopping on one leg, spinning in a full circle and talking to people outside the ring in the middle of a round are just some of the things Whittaker does to disorientate his opponent and get the crowd going. But it’s no gimmick.

“I started doing what I do when I got fitter; I started taking the sport more seriously,” Whittaker told ESPN on Thursday ahead of his next fight against fellow countryman Leon Willings (7-1 2 KOs) on Sunday (Peacock, 1 p.m. ET)

“It was like ‘let me try this, let me try this’ then next thing you know it became second nature. I’ve been doing all this style since I was an amateur. I’ve been [boxing] in halls when no one’s there. Since my debut.”

His flamboyant antics catch the eye of even the most casual of boxing fans. He gained 100,000 followers on Instagram overnight after his last bout and recently hit one million in total. He’s a promoter’s dream and BOXXER CEO Ben Shalom only expects the hype to grow.

“Since his last fight, the amount of people that want to come and see Ben Whittaker in the flesh and watch him is pretty incredible,” Shalom told ESPN. “He’s a visionary. We saw that vision from the start. Every promotional company needs a superstar. You’ve seen it with the UFC and Conor McGregor, you’ve seen it with other companies in Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua. We believe he can surpass all of them, that’s how much we believe in him.”

Whittaker, 26, nicknamed “The Surgeon,” hopes his authentic style coupled with his dedication, boxing ability and hunger will propel him to a world title.

“Right now I’m just showing what I want to show. There’s so many other gameplans we can go to,” Whittaker said. “When I need to, I take them out and look dominant when I do it. So come Sunday, it will either be dominant or I’ll hop on one leg, we’ll see.”

Trips across the pond, where he spent time with boxing trainers SugarHill Steward, who trains Tyson Fury, and Brian “BoMac” McIntyre, who works with Terence Crawford, have helped Whittaker learned a difference in mindset between Britain and the U.S, where boxers by nature like to show off more.

“I [first] went over there when I was an amateur,” Whittaker said. “But when I turned pro I did a lot of my camps over there and being the so called Olympic silver medallist, you’re a hot ticket over there to get one up on. They talk a lot in sparring. Mentally, it builds your mindset.

“It’s only sparring but they say it to try and get under your skin but if you let it, sadly, you’ll get walked all over in the sport. Then I come out on top and they go ‘okay this kid can fight.'”

Charged with molding Whittaker into that world champion is trainer Joby Clayton, who believes Whittaker has all the tools needed to get to the top.

“There’s a balance,” Clayton says. “As he moves through his career he will show there is a balance. He will always showboat and probably the more he gets into his flow the more those things come out. It’s part of his magic, it’s part of his genius in my opinion.”

There was a glimpse of the genius in February against Gradia. Whittaker used some extravagant ducking and diving to dodge punches, disorientate Gradia and strike back before his opponent knew what was happening.

“To me there’s a little bit of showboating where he’s sort of clapping himself. I am from an older generation, that’s not necessarily the showboating that I want to see,” Clayton said. “But there’s another kind of showboating right in front to the opponent and it totally disorganizes [them] and catches them off guard. It creates different rhythms and different shapes that he can then exploit.

“Benjamin is just doing his thing, that’s how he changes his rhythm, that’s how he creates the shapes, that’s how he disorganizes the opponent. There’s a real art and craft to doing what he does when he’s in his flow.”

Clayton’s shouts of “back to business” pepper Whittaker’s ears during fights after he lets himself go. A reminder that there’s always job to be done.

“That’s part of my job is to let him know now’s the time to get serious, to deal with this guy,” Clayton said.

He’s done that, winning all his fights. But Whittaker is the first to admit there’s a long road ahead.

“I’m relatively young, I’ve got the speed got the style, everything that can take me to the top. The only thing that won’t is myself,” Whittaker said. “I’ve just got to keep dedicated, cut the noise out and focus on myself.”

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