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Ben Whittaker: Boxing's viral showboater has 'more layers' to come on march towards world stardom

Watch Ben Whittaker as he looks to extend his perfect professional record when he fights Leon Willings on the undercard of Easter Sunday's British heavyweight clash between Frazer Clarke and Fabio Wardley, live on Sky Sports from 6pm.

Ben Whittaker is looking to put on a show once again this Sunday
Image: Ben Whittaker is looking to put on a show once again this Sunday

Ben Whittaker is a man of many sides, but only he will decide when to let you in on them all.

The acts of sweet science contortion are snowballing towards global fame as one of British boxing's most absorbing technicians continues to pair an armoury of punch variation, blistering speed and shrewd distancing with a crowd-igniting showmanship.

He drops his hands to shimmy and slither beyond soon-to-be-demoralised swings from opponents, and chips away at will in reply with stinging jabs and unwavering authority over the tempo of a fight. He calls upon the spiteful three-punch combinations and vicious flurries at the ropes on his terms only, and decides when to bring things to a halt on his terms only. If he wants to get you out of there early, he feels like he can. In his mind, it's his call.

The world is beginning to know of Ben Whittaker, whether they like him or not. No-look backhand slaps, a Matrix-like showreel of evasive manoeuvres and one outrageous head-pat in his last outing against Khalid Graidia has a little something to do with that.

But do not be fooled by the flair. The Olympic silver medallist certainly isn't.

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Security had to restrain Nigerian contender Ezra Arenyeka who stormed towards the stage to challenge Ben Whittaker.

"I thought down the line this is eventually going to happen, that's what you plan in your mind and now it's happening it's happening," Whittaker told Sky Sports. "The goal remains the same, if you don't fight the way you're supposed to fight and win it gets forgotten about. That's the main focus.

"The showboating gets talked about but at the end of the day the boxing is what gets you there. I want belts, titles, I want to be world champion but that will come."

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The box of tricks had been no secret before now, but the Graidia fight has the feel of a minor breakthrough moment for recognition of Whittaker and all he stands for. It served as the most notable dose yet of the pizazz and star quality capable of lifting any atmosphere, along with the self-assurance-meets-controlled-arrogance customary to any meaningful prospect and the killer's ability to decide when enough is enough. He will toy with you, and then he will finish you. Again, on his terms.

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It warranted messages of admiration from NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal and NFL wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr, the latter of whom could relate to the art of entertainment and mainstream appeal. WBO lightweight world champion Shakur Stevenson was among the marquee boxing names to shower Whittaker with praise, while the performance also prompted American actor O'Shea Jackson Jr to look into the man he saw spinning on one leg in the ring.

Whittaker's social media following rocketed, showreels of his Naz-likened theatrics swept newsfeeds and his stock enjoyed another spike on his march towards the world's elite light-heavyweights. At the same time he continues to divide opinion in an era when people crave a superstar until one eventually comes along; any division is only a reminder that he is doing something right.

The price - or reward - for growing prominence and the manner in which he has fuelled it is a queue of 'bounty hunters', as Whittaker described Sunday's opponent Leon Willings. As much was underlined at Friday's press conference when the 'African King' Eworitse Ezra Arenyeka approached the stage from nowhere to call Whittaker out. Last time, it was Lewis Edmondson who sought to introduce himself to The Surgeon.

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Light-Heavyweight Ben Whittaker tells fans to expect something special when he takes to the ring at the O2 on march 31st.

His trajectory, his talent and, perhaps more than anything, his style has fighters eager to share a stage with him. Both in order to exercise their disapproval for the way in which he has belittled opponents and for the spotlight he now promises them. For Whittaker, there is meaning to the magic that has people talking.

"One of the moves the referee stopped (against Graidia) was I hit him with a backhand or something, every move I'm doing I'm hitting off it, I'm countering and making him miss," he explained.

"There's method to it. I'm doing it in my fighting, when I'm in that flow and having fun I'm very very hard to beat. I'm only showing what I want to show right now, you saw in the first minute of that fight I came out with a tight guard, boxed properly. All the guys so far, the showboating style has worked so why not?

"If I was showboating and hitting them lightly they would walk through me, but they aren't, so I've either hurt them or they're thinking they can't catch me at all. I got the win, I stopped him the way I did."

Outside of the ring he cuts a relaxed, light-hearted figure with a purist's love for his craft and seemingly devoid of any real intent to humiliate opponents. With the erratic twists, head feints and pirouettes that dress up his displays is a conscious approach to commanding the distance of a fight and unlocking different angles for him to exploit. He has become a headache to decipher, without anybody really coming close to giving him a challenge so far in his professional career.

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Ben Whittaker and Prince Naseem Hamed have both been known to entertain fans with their repertoire of showboating skills - but who does it best?

"There are game-plans, we have game-plans for everybody," he said. "We saw him (Graidia) against Zach Parker and he was rushing at Parker, he was standing toe-to-toe with Dan Azeez so my thing was to come out, meet him straight away, hurt him and take him back. As soon as he felt a couple he was on the backfoot and that's when I could take over.

"It's risk to open them up, to entertain a bit more, I could have come out with a tight guard, put my shots together and get him out of there earlier. But I broke him down, slowed him down, he didn't want to throw punches no more and I took him apart that way."

Dare to open up against him and he is too quick and too skilled. Back down and he will stalk you into a corner. Whittaker believes he can fight in any way, referencing his amateur encounters with the highly-gifted Ukrainian Oleksandr Khyzhniak as evidence of the grit and physicality that he has yet to call upon.

"My first senior Europeans and in my second fight I fought Khyzhniak, I just stood there and fought and he took a lot of steps back from skinny little 75 kilo me.

"I think after that people looked at me different and realised I could stand there and fight. I haven't needed to show that yet but I can do that."

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Ben Whittaker treated the Wembley crowd to more of his party tricks during his dominant victory over Khalid Graidia.

It is something yet to be required across Whittaker's 6-0 start to life in the professional ranks, and he accepts he may find himself waiting until a title opportunity for it to be required. When the time does come, he will be ready.

"I'm only showing what I want to show, there are many layers to my boxing," he continued. "I can come forward, go back, stand there and fight, break somebody down. Once those times come and I do start showing those skills I'll start getting awarded by the fans and they'll see 'he really is a good boxer'.

"The style I'm doing is not an easy style, if it was everybody would be doing it. I've mastered my distance and range and the confidence of being that close to somebody with my hands down."

Whittaker deems his methods a reflection of boxing's art, from the expression of personality to the vast menu of techniques on which he prides himself and via which he is hurtling towards bigger and better platforms. Graidia endured a heavy serving of Whittaker imagination; you sense more is on the way.

"The fans are liking it, I do it for them, I like to keep them on the edge and get them excited, make them want to come out again. When I see them booing the ref when he stopped it (some of the showboating) I was like 'thank you very much'.

"You've only got one career, you've got to enjoy it. I put the hard work in in the gym and then fight nights you can go and enjoy it."

Ben Whittaker fights Leon Willings on the undercard of Easter Sunday's British heavyweight title clash between Frazer Clarke and Fabio Wardley, live on Sky Sports from 6pm

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