Team GB boxer who was sacked from two jobs is now one fight from Olympic gold

·3-min read
Tokyo , Japan - 1 August 2021; Ben Whittaker of Great Britain, left, and Imam Khataev of Russian Olympic Committee after their men's light heavyweight semi-final bout at the Kokugikan Arena during the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
Ben Whittaker, left, of Britain and Imam Khataev of the Russian Olympic Committee after their light-heavyweight semi-final bout. (Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Team GB's showboating boxer Ben Whittaker has gone from being kicked out of school and sacked from jobs for hiding in the toilets to emulating his hero Muhammad Ali by fighting for Olympic gold.

Whittaker, from Wolverhampton, has already guaranteed himself silver in the light-heavyweight category, and is now just three rounds away from potential gold in Wednesday's final.

After beating Russian Imam Khataev in the semi-final by edging a split decision, Whittaker revealed how boxing set him on a path to potential Olympic glory after a tough childhood.

“I grew up with ADHD. In a classroom situation I could never switch on,” the 24-year-old said. “I was a bit embarrassed to tell people, so I played the sort of gangster role.

Benjamin Whittaker R of Britain celebrates winning the boxing men's light heavy 75-81kg quarterfinal match against Keno Machado of Brazil at Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, July 30, 2021. (Photo by Ou Dongqu/Xinhua via Getty Images)
Benjamin Whittaker celebrates his quarter-final victory over Keno Machado of Brazil. (Ou Dongqu/Xinhua via Getty Images)
SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - JUNE 23: Ben Whittaker of Great Britain poses for a photo to mark the official announcement of the boxing team selected to Team GB for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at GB Boxing English Institute of Sport on June 23, 2021 in Sheffield, England. (Photo by Barrington Coombs/Getty Images for British Olympic Association)
Whittaker, 24, was sacked from two jobs for hiding in the toilets when he was younger, before turning to boxing. (Getty)

“I was a bit naughty, messing round as I was a bit insecure with what I had. I got kicked out of school in Year 11 and my dad said I’d have to find a job to get a bit of discipline.

“I went to a sports shop first, Boxing Day, very, very busy. My social skills were terrible and I hid in the toilets and got sacked. My dad works at the Wolverhampton Wanderers [football] ground and he got me a job there. I was a steward, 69kg, bald kid, skinny as anything.

“I didn’t like it as I was too cold so I hid in the toilets. I got caught eating pies under the hand dryer and got sacked again.”

Whittaker admitted his early boxing career was blighted by an inability to get fit, despite undoubted qualities with his fists.

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“I was fighting in local shows in a pub or social club,” he said. 

“I was so unfit. I never used to train. In truth, I hated it – who wants to get punched in the face? But I was very talented, winning fights off that alone. 

“I thought: 'If I do get up and run, and spar more than once a month, I can do something.' I wanted to show the school that said I’ll amount to nothing." 

On Wednesday, the fast-talking Midlander will aim to match the colour of his hair – gold – as well as one of his heroes when he takes on Rio 2016 middleweight champion Arlen Lopz of Cuba.

“Every Christmas my coach used to buy me a Muhammad Ali photo from the [1960] Olympics when he’s standing on the podium and he had the gold medal at 81kg [light heavy],” the Briton said.

“He said: 'This is going to be you. Trust me, I love amateur boxing and your style will win it.' I thought: 'Whatever.' 

“He bought it again for me last Christmas and said: ‘You’re on the doorstep now, you’ve got to go and do it.’ I looked at the photo and thought: 'I can do this.'" 

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