Ben Whittaker dazzled as he made his professional debut against Greg O’Neill at the Bournemouth International Centre on Saturday.
Whittaker starred at the Tokyo Olympic Games last year when he won the light-heavyweight silver medal. He’s been waiting nearly 12 months, as he recovered from injury and agreed promotional terms with BOXXER, to begin his next journey in the sport and go pro. All the while anticipation and expectation built up around him.
And there was no anticlimax as he stopped opponent O’Neill early in round two.
With SugarHill Steward, the renowned trainer of Tyson Fury, his coach, he arrived kitted out in the colours of the famous Kronk gym. Whittaker relished the moment he’d been waiting for, preceded by a guitarist before walking slowly to the ring as he made his entrance for his first professional fight.
His showmanship had been apparent at the Olympics, his fast feet and quick hands had been on full display in Tokyo as he proved himself one of the best amateur boxers in the world. But the challenge the 25-year-old has set himself as a professional is to introduce the destructive elements of power-punching and ruthless finishing that will win him fans and eventually titles.
That would come. But first Whittaker reintroduced himself as a showman. He feinted his left and then began to land the jab.
He picked O’Neill up on his shoulder when they came together in a clinch and turned to the crowd when O’Neill tried to hit him on the break.
Whittaker tapped shots to the body and almost cracked O’Neill on the break himself.
His angered opponent charged after him, while Whittaker skipped away showboating early in the fight.
Whittaker’s speed was evident when a quick one-two struck and then he weaved his head beneath a brace of punches to draw a round of applause from the crowd.
If the first round was fun, the second was brutal and swift. Only 21 seconds into the second round his right hook smashed down. It stunned O’Neill who staggered backwards and collapsed onto his back. He could not recover from that.
“That,” Whittaker said afterwards, “was sweeter than doughnut.”
Whittaker leapt on to ring post to bellow in celebration and then danced across the centre of the ring.
“I’m my own critic so the first round I wasn’t the happiest, and I thought I’m going to have to hurt this boy,” he said.
“There was no nerves. The main thing is that I had a bit too much fun and I forgot the game plan. Came back, listened to my coach, and it’s all she wrote.”
The wait had been worth it.
“He’s the future of British boxing,” promoter Ben Shalom said. “He’s a superstar.”
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