Whittaker out to win over reluctant admirers in Russia

By Mark Staniforth, PA
PA Media: Sport

The political turmoil engulfing Olympic boxing seems a world away for Great Britain’s latest hot prospect Ben Whittaker, who is only focused on winning over more reluctant admirers at the World Championships in Russia next month.

Whittaker is one of 13 members of the GB squad picked for the event in Yekaterinburg which will no longer function as a Tokyo qualifying tournament after governing body AIBA were stripped of their status as the sport’s Olympic hosts.

While officials continue to scratch their heads over the replacement qualifying process for the 2020 Games, light-heavyweight Whittaker knows he must leave nothing to chance – and that means turning on the style even more.

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Ben Whittaker has emerged as one of Britain’s top prospects for Tokyo (Martin Rickett/PA)
Ben Whittaker has emerged as one of Britain’s top prospects for Tokyo (Martin Rickett/PA)

The 22-year-old’s fleet-footed, unorthodox approach – which has earned more than a few comparisons to Naseem Hamed – might not go down well with everyone but it did earn him a breakthrough European silver medal in Minsk in June.

Whittaker told PA: “I’ve had occasions when the crowd have hated me because of my showboating and I expect that might happen in Russia, but if the crowd are against me it just spurs me on even more.

“I’ve got a flashy, show-off style and it used to get me in trouble with referees. As I’ve matured, I’ve learned to strike a balance, but I definitely like to stand back and show off when I can.

“I’ve always thought amateur boxing is a bit plain. It’s ‘I’ll hit you, then you hit me.’ When I turn professional I’ll be doing this so I thought why not now? I just want to be free to express myself.”

Since his emergence in the 81kg division Whittaker has won a series of gold medals but it was his silver in Minsk – after a bizarre, stand-offish defeat to Azerbaijan’s Loren Alfonso – which may ultimately prove to be most significant.

“Everyone usually just runs at me and I love it, but my opponent tried to box me and it was a bit weird,” added Whittaker.

Frazer Clarke looks to bounce back from his defeat in Minsk (Martin Rickett/PA)
Frazer Clarke looks to bounce back from his defeat in Minsk (Martin Rickett/PA)

“But I needed that because it is the perfect time to study that kind of style before Tokyo.

“It was disappointing when I heard this was not going to be an Olympic qualifier but you just have to get on with it. This gives me the chance to see the other boxers from around the world, and prepare for Tokyo.”

The 13-strong squad also includes the likes of Burton super-heavyweight Frazer Clarke, who is looking to bounce back from his first-round loss in the Belarusian capital, and the McCormack twins, Pat and Luke.

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