Ben Whittaker explains his reaction to Olympic silver, what the medal really means to him and considers what next. He speaks exclusively to John Dennen
HE did not come to lose. The day after his Olympic final, Ben Whittaker has had time to reflect. Yesterday on the podium, after losing to Cuba’s Arlen Lopez for light-heavyweight gold, Whittaker looked a picture of misery. Visibly emotional, bitterly disappointed, he didn’t put on his silver medal at first.
But speaking to Boxing News from Tokyo, he can now take in the bigger picture. “It’s all good. Yesterday I just showed my emotion, I was just disappointed. Not due to the fight because he’s a great fighter, everybody knows. I study boxing and he’s a great fighter and at the time the right man won. I was just disappointed in myself that I didn’t bring back a gold. I was just one step away. But looking back, now I’ve reflected, what an achievement, Olympic silver medallist, second in the world and a lot of boxes have been ticked. I’ve just got to move on forward from here and hopefully right the wrong if I ever get to fight him again,” Whittaker explained. “Me as a perfectionist, I know I just didn’t do enough. There was a few things [that could have been different but] at the end of the day it was three competitive rounds, it wasn’t like I got completely outschooled or whatever.”
Lopez became a two-weight Olympic champion and will go down as one the great modern Cubans. Whittaker has long been aware of him, and almost boxed Lopez in the World Series of Boxing format a few years ago when they were both middleweights though that opportunity fell through. “I remember in 2014, when I wasn’t even on GB, I used to watch the likes of Arlen Lopez and study him. My dad said one day I can see you fighting him,” Ben said. “I never got the chance to fight him [in the WSB]. What a dream come true – Olympic final and I get to fight one of the best ever. Double Olympic champion so it’s not like I lost to nobody, he’s one of the best. It was a great experience.”
He expects to improve for it as well. “For me, a Cuban on paper is fluid, is this, is that. He [Lopez] has not really got the typical Cuban style if you look at him on paper. He’s more of an American pro, if you look at the way he cuts down the ring. But when you get in there, he’s a really class operator and it was great to have that experience, shall I say. That will just make me grow from there. Every time I’ve lost I’ve come back better and I’ve learned from things. So I know what I need to do now and I’m sure I’ll try to take that on,” Whittaker said. “I’m new to 81kgs and I’ve lost only three times, one was in the European Games finals, the other one was the World semi-final and now the Olympic final. So three defeats at this weight category and it’s only the top level we’ve lost at. So we’re getting there slowly but surely.”
Whittaker fully embraced the Olympic tournament, from amusing appearances on TV, when he vowed to become mayor of Wolverhampton, to his unique victory celebrations. “I think it’s just me naturally being myself. If you go to the Bocskai [a small tournament in Hungary] and places like that and I do a celebration nobody’s going to see it. But I knew all eyes was on the Olympics. It was my time to just let my self-expression just speak for itself and what a place to do it. I’m in Japan, the celebration I was doing was from Dragon Ball Z, which is a Japanese anime,” he said. “I’m so happy I got to do it in Japan and it was a dream come true.”
The expectation is for him to turn professional. “What’s next for me is I’m going to go back and eat as much as I can,” he smiled. “Before I even came out here, there was a lot of people who wanted me to turn pro and there were a lot of people giving me offers. I’ve gone and got a silver medal, the doors have opened crazy. I’ve got to do what [Joshua] Buatsi and the others did, sit down and just take my time and go through everything. Because if I rush it, I might fall into something head first and regret it.”
Whittaker calls himself “The Future.” His after Tokyo will be well worth watching.