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BOXXER: Ben Whittaker on his professional debut, SugarHill Steward and world title aspirations

Aspiring world champion Ben Whittaker sits down with bet365's Johnny Nelson ahead of his long-awaited professional debut in Bournemouth this weekend.

Ben Whittaker strikes you as a prize-fighter destined to make it all the way to the very top!

He possesses a swagger and a confidence that you usually only find within champions.

There are many who talk the talk… but few manage to actually back it up by walking the walk. Whittaker, you sense, is going to be one of the exceptions to the rule.

He’s different. When he talks, you can’t help but listen. He almost has you hanging on to his every last word – he has an aura about him.

The 25-year-old rookie carries himself like a seasoned professional too, and appears as relaxed about making his long-awaited professional debut this weekend, as he will be when it comes to ordering his celebratory post-fight takeaway.

“Truthfully, I'm not too excited if I'm honest,” the 2020 Tokyo Olympic silver medalist told bet365 in an exclusive conversation with Johnny Nelson ahead his maiden bout on Saturday night.

“I'm just used to this lifestyle now. I've been boxing since I was seven, I've been competing since I was 11 so it's just another day in the office for me.

“Of course, the anticipation and the waiting is a bit different, but I've been to the Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games so I’m not going to get too caught up in the emotion of it.

“For me, it’s no different to any other fight. When I look back in my career I can say 'oh this was my debut' and so on, but for me, I just want to get it done so I can eat as much as I want.

“I'm going to go to Five Guys, then I'm getting a Dominoes ‘Meateor’ and then after that, I'm having a little low-calorie Halo Top ice cream to make myself feel nice.”

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Before he can indulge in those culinary offerings though, Whittaker has work to do against the tough and well-tuned Greg O'Neill who is no stranger to sharing the ring with top upcoming talent.

“I've heard he's a tough guy but I've not really watched anything of him, if I'm honest.

“I looked at his boxing record and he's fought people like Anthony Ogogo and Felix Cash – but he's stepping in with Ben Whittaker now, and I'm a different breed.

“I'm 25 and I've got something to prove on my debut. I'm sure he can have a nice weekend in Bournemouth after the loss, and then he can go on about his life.”

Whittaker boasts world title aspirations, and under the guidance of esteemed Kronk Gym trainer SugarHill Steward, the Darlaston-born fighter knows it is only a matter of time until those big opportunities present themselves.

“I want titles, of course, that is why I am working with Sugar – you can see why he's one of the best,” he smiled.

“Every coach that I've been to before has been all about fitness and being fast, but he slows everything right down, and just makes you feel like a beginner again.

“I was throwing my jabs thinking I looked good, and he says, “what the hell was that?”, and I went “what are you on about, it's a jab?”, so he goes "no, no, you need to do this and that!"

“He just breaks everything down and that's what I like and that's what I need in my career. I don't need a yes man to tell me I'm the finished article. He's stripped me back to the basics and I can feel myself maturing already.”

Steward, who has also overseen Tyson Fury’s recent rise back to world title glory, isn’t easily impressed. He has seen failure and tasted success. He knows the fighting game inside out.

So it was always going to take somebody special for the American trainer to even reference within the same breath as the four weight great Roy Jones Jnr, let alone back to emulate his in-ring achievements.

“I don't want to say if – because I believe that I can – but if I make it to that level, it would be an honour,” he said confidently.

“Everybody wants to grow up to be a Roy Jones Jnr, but all I can do is what I can do.

“I believe that if I listen to people like Sugar, I don't get ahead of myself, I stay dedicated, and the vision is focused on where I am now, I think I can go on to be one of the best.

“This country has produced people like Joe Calzaghe, Nigel Benn and Naseem Hamid so if I could put myself on the list with the likes of those names, I'd be a happy person. That's the goal.”

Whittaker takes to the ring for the first time as a professional as part of this Saturday’s BOXXER event in Bournemouth, which is headlined by Chris Billam-Smith vs Isaac Chamberlain.

All the action will be shown live on Sky Sports from 7pm, with the main event scheduled to get underway around 10pm.

By Mark Mothershaw

Watch Johnny Nelson's full interview with Ben Whittaker on our You Tube channel.

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