Hate him or love him, you just can’t ignore Ben Whittaker. The SugarHill Steward-trained 26-year-old is a peacocking braggart to some and a pugilistic artiste to others. But whatever happens when he boxes Khalid Graidia on Saturday, you can guarantee his name will trend on social media afterwards.
The Olympic silver medalist is certainly taking the road less travelled. While most fighters embark on their early career with humility and head-down grit, Whittaker goes about his work with supreme confidence. Or arrogance, if his showboating antics aren’t for you.
Boxing fans are a hard bunch to please. The same people who marvel at old clips of Roy Jones Jr or ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed at their impetuous best will shake their heads and sigh at Whittaker walking the path they forged. Arrogance is a trait that must be “earned” in some way, as if an Olympic medal isn’t enough to justify it.
But these fans have short memories. Watch Hamed take on Ricky Beard in his pro debut and it’s all there. The same hands by the same sides. The same daring, the same bravado and the same courage. The same nagging need to put his chin right in front of his opponent before impishly pulling it away and firing back. These fighters are born this way. Fighting without a care in the world isn’t some badge of honour you get for time served. It’s an intrinsic part of the DNA of the fighters lucky enough to possess such confidence.
Whittaker is the latest off that production line. Of course, the time will come when he has to prove it against robust opposition. Graidia certainly isn’t that, which means that Ben’s inevitable showcase of braggadocio will undoubtedly go down like a tepid pint for those hypocrites who openly wonder where the next Roy Jones Jr is going to come from.
Make no mistake, Graidia is a bit of a step back for Whittaker. Every other opponent he’s faced has won more fights than they’ve lost apart from the 6-6-1 Greg O’Neil, who he knocked out in his pro debut. Saturday’s foe carries a 10-13-5 ledger that will serve as nectar to Whittaker’s detractors.
But Graidia has been in with good men and has not disgraced himself. Dan Azeez, who headlines the Wembley card against Joshua Buatsi, needed all eight rounds and a points win to get past him. Zach Parker, the former WBO interim title challenger, took seven rounds to break him down. Graidia is the epitome of a journeyman, but in the classic sense of the word. He gives good rounds to good men.
Whittaker looks like becoming one of those good men, which makes this an effective litmus test of his ambitions. A natural competitor who refused to wear his silver medal at the Olympics because he felt he had lost the gold, ‘The Surgeon’ will be looking to better the performances of Parker and Azeez. This fight is straightforward in terms of outcome, but as a mile marker for Whittaker’s professional development it could be crucial.
What Ben needs is rounds. Only one opponent from five has taken him the distance. Graidia has only been stopped twice in his 13 defeats and this is only an eight rounder. I can see Whittaker being extended here. Not in terms of his supremacy. I think his skills will be more than enough to see him win every minute of every round. But in terms of vital ring minutes, I think it’ll be a long night for the self-assured West Midlander. My pick is an 11/4 shot: Ben Whittaker to win on points.
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