Ben Whittaker on dancing, Floyd Mayweather advice and going for gold in Tokyo

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Ben Whittaker was once embarrassed by attending ballet and ballroom dancing classes but now he is hoping his footwork can help him waltz to an Olympic gold medal.

For the the Wednesbury-based light-heavyweight, boxing was always going to be where he would finally take the right steps in life.

Olympic medal hope Whittaker, 23, was diagnosed with ADHD as a kid, kicked out of school and sacked from two jobs as a teenager.

But his dad, Tony Wilson, was a fighter while he was inundated with stories of Cuban legends by his godfather and amateur trainer, Joby Clayton, soon after he started in the sport aged just seven.

Now he's out at the Tokyo Olympics hoping to change his life forever by winning gold and fulfilling the promise that those around him believe will make him a boxing superstar.

And he has those days in his tights worrying if his pals would spot him on his way to dance class to thank.

“My dad put me into ballet as a young kid,” he said.

"It was a bit weird walking in with your tights on, but it has worked because now you see my style and I have nice light feet, especially for a light-heavyweight.

“I did ballet, I did ballroom dancing, I did break dancing, it has paid off now.

“I didn't tell my mates, I didn't tell anyone. But it was a win win, you're the only boy in the class around a load of girls.

“You just have to stand there in a vest and leotard, I felt a bit strange and was thinking, 'hopefully nobody finds out about this'.

“With dance it teaches you a rhythm.

“In boxing, you're on your toes for three minutes in a round, in dancing a song can be longer than that so if you can keep that going it's good training.

“Ballet people are flexible and agile. As stupid as I felt I looked, it paid off.

“But I stopped as soon as I got old enough to say, 'I don't want to do this no more'.”

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Whittaker excelled in boxing with a little help from his fancy footwork but struggled at school.

He hopes he can be an example to others who suffer from ADHD. He believes he's shown success can come even if education proves to be a problem.

“Classrooms were never for me, trying to concentrate on what is the square root of something? Forget about it,” said the light-heavyweight, who won bronze at the 2019 world championships.

“I was too busy throwing things at people. I couldn't help it.

“I was always getting in trouble. I'd too much energy to burn.

“My mum took me to the doctors, they tried to give me medication to calm me down but she said, 'No I'm not giving him that' so they decided to take me to the gym instead.

“Boxing taught me discipline, it levelled me out.

“I'm a story for people who have ADHD, just because a classroom doesn't suit you then you can find other things in life for you.

“If I listened to the school, I'd have amounted to nothing. I put everything into boxing.”

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But before being picked up for the GB Boxing podium squad and getting the salary which comes with it, Whittaker had to get a job.

That didn't work out too well, either.

“I worked at JD Sports,” he said. “The job lasted about a week. My social skills were terrible.

“I didn't want to do that job. I hid in the toilets every day.

“People would ask 'Can I get these in a size 10s' and I'd just go hide in the toilet. I got caught, I got sacked and then my dad gave me another chance working at Wolves [Football Club].

“But it was cold there, I was struggling with my weight at the time and I got caught eating a Pukka Pie in the toilet.

“It's a good job I'm good at boxing otherwise I'd be still just getting sacked from jobs.”

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Yet his struggles at school not only sent him down the boxing route, he also found another love in music.

He may have been embarrassed by ballet but he's not afraid to rap on camera.

Under the name of B£NZO, he writes and records his own music with the help of some friends and it can be found on YouTube.

“At school, if we got kicked out or put in detention we would be told to stay quiet and then the next minute someone is tapping the table and the other is rapping and it is going off,” said Whittaker.

“Then we made a rapping group. We are all still friends now. It's an escape from boxing.

“Boxing weighs on my shoulders but music gives me a release. It takes my head off it. It can get too much sometimes.

“Doing some creativity in the studio keeps me out of trouble and keeps me busy."

His GB Boxing team-mates know all about his music.

“Sometimes I bring my equipment to my room at training camp in Sheffield," he said.

“My team-mates tell me to give it up as it's hurting their ears!

"Galal Yafai isn't the biggest fan."

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But it is in the ring where he really hits the right notes.

Whittaker now gets the chance to shine at the Olympics, which comes 17 years on from when he sat down to properly watch a boxing bout for the first time.

That was Amir Khan's Athens 2004 final against Mario Kindelan.

While the nation was cheering on 17-year-old Khan, Whittaker was mesmerised by the Cuban who won.

“The first time I sat down and watched a proper boxing match was Amir Khan against Mario Kindelan,” he said.

“He was my favourite fighter. How fast Amir Khan was and Kindelan slowed him down.

“You see the clips of Arturo Gatti, Micky Ward, everyone gets hit, I don't like the look of that but Joby and my dad told me to watch the Cubans.

“When I first started, I used to call myself 'The English Cuban'.

“I used to have the flag on my shorts, I loved the art of their boxing. Boxing is kind of a gladiator sport, but the best hit and don't get hit.

“I watched the Cuban team closely in 2012, I watched them in 2016, hopefully I get to box a Cuban in 2021 so I can beat one.”

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But while he adores the Cubans, he also has a lot of love for another master of the art in Floyd Mayweather.

Yet he ignored the American's advice when they met at a meet-and-greet session with Anthony Joshua in 2017.

“He told me waiting for the Olympics is a waste, and that all medals do is catch dust, but he was kind of lying cos he did it himself," said Whittaker.

“The medal might catch dust but it opened a lot of doors for him. It will do the same for me.”

Mayweather won bronze back in 1996 after controversially losing in the semi-finals at the Atlanta Games.

But Whittaker has only eyes for gold.

“I went to the worlds and got a bronze but if it wasn't gold then it doesn't matter,” he said.

“Being an Olympian is great but if I don't do what I'm supposed to do out there then I'll never talk about the Olympics again.”

  • Amir Khan
  • Anthony Joshua
  • Floyd Mayweather
  • Olympics
  • YouTube
  • Boxing

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