Boxer Ben Whittaker did not expect to become an overnight sensation.
A 2020 Olympic silver medalist at light heavyweight, Whittaker turned pro in 2022 and quickly racked up five wins with four by knockout. Earlier this month, he added to that hot start with a fifth-round TKO over Khalid Graidia.
But this time, the world stood up and took notice as Whittaker went viral for a flashy style that saw him dance, showboat, and taunt his opponent — all while boxing his ears off.
Speaking on The MMA Hour, Whittaker said the past week has been a wild ride.
“It’s been crazy, if I’m honest,” Whittaker said. “I’ve had the likes of Shaquille O’Neal message me, follow me, send me his number. Odell Beckham, the list goes on. It’s an honor, but I don’t do it for the views, I don’t do it for the likes. It’s my style, and it’s the way I express myself in the ring.
“It’s something I’ve really been trying to get to grips with, because I’ve done it since my debut. I usually go in there, showboat, get the win, go back, eat Five Guys, and wake up like a normal day. I did the exact same routine, except I woke up, and I had about 3,000 more followers. I don’t know what happened.
“It’s ridiculous. But all publicity is good publicity, I suppose.”
While his style is getting him noticed right now, Whittaker said it wasn’t always that way. When he was selected for the Olympic team, he said coaches did not like the way he fought, but he chose to ignore them. It ended up working out.
“When I got on the Olympic team, a lot of people — the English style is very stiff, very strong, very come forward,” Whittaker said. “So that’s kind of the idea from the English boxing style as well, so when I got to the Olympic team, they hated my style. They kind of changed me. They told me it will never work at the high level. Then next thing you know, I got a silver medal representing them. So sometimes you’ve just got to block out the other things and know what’s right for yourself.”
Of course, there is some risk with fighting in such a flashy style. If Whittaker ever does get caught dancing with his hands down, the same people who love his highlights will also laugh at his misfortunes. But Whittaker said that comes with the territory, and he has no intention of changing.
“Definitely not,” Whittaker said when asked if he will tone it down. “Especially being a fighter, you need that risk. When I’ve got that risk, that’s what excites me. That’s what keeps me up, that’s what makes me run in the morning, that’s what makes me go hard in the gym. I like putting myself at that risk and knowing that I could become a meme. I make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Still only 26, the young Englishman has a bright future ahead in the squared circle, but the sudden influx of fame has some people wanting to see that happen sooner rather than later. Whittaker himself is not in a rush, though, saying he wants to climb the ladder correctly before he becomes a champion.
“I’m six fights in, and if you look at Twitter, they want me to start fighting [Dmitry] Bivol next,” Whittaker said. “Give me some time, man! I’m 26. These guys are in their mid-30s. But at the end of the day, that’s a little confidence boost for me, because if I’m six fights in and with those guys already, I’m doing something right.
“But you always see it it. You see these prospects do very well at a certain level, let’s jump to this level, and when they jump to that level, they don’t make it. I want to make sure I go through every phase so when I’m at the top, I stay there. But I’m not far off, skill wise. I believe I’m there already.”