Ben Whittaker knows success in his current line of work means one thing – getting your name on the wall.
Whittaker aims to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics this weekend before setting off on what he hopes will be a glorious professional career. But as a graduate of the Great Britain boxing gym in Sheffield, he knows he must win a medal to have passed with flying colors.
It is a tough standard to live by, but what you achieve in the pros can mean nothing. At the moment, he is aiming to emulate Anthony Joshua, Luke Campbell and Nicola Adams who won gold medals, rather than Josh Taylor, who beat a future Olympic champion on his appearance at London 2012, but failed to make the podium.
“That is what most people talk about down here,” the light heavyweight from Wolverhampton said. “If you’re not on that wall then you've not done things, that's what they're like sadly. “All Taylor did in my eyes was win the Commonwealth gold which is good. But then look at him now, undisputed world champion, so it shows if you come through here anything can happen.
“He came through the same route as us, worked hard, beat experienced amateurs along the way and now look he's the king of the world. It is an incentive and inspiration that if he can do it then we can do it.”
Whittaker, 23, gets back on the road to Tokyo on Friday in Paris, when he faces Paul-Andrei Aradoaie, of Romania, in the last 16-stage of the European Olympic qualifiers. The event was suspended after three days in London in March last year because of the pandemic, but it picks up where it left off on Friday and runs until Tuesday.
Whittaker is the No 1 seed at light-heavyweight, having won a bronze medal at the World Championships in 2019 and silver at the European Games the same year. He needs two wins to guarantee his spot in Tokyo, but the further he gets in Paris, the higher his seeding will be in Japan.
Boxing on Day one in Paris is something that suits him.
“That’s what I wanted really. Just get it done and dusted,” he said. “I just want to go there, get my gold medal and get a decent seeding for the Olympics and take it from there. The better seeding you get the better chance you have of changing your color medal at the Olympics.
“Everyone in my side of the draw I’ve beaten. Boxing is a sport where one punch can change things but if I’m switched on I will beat everyone on my side.
“Whoever comes on the other side I will see but I would like to get the Azerbaijan kid (Loren Alfonso Dominguez) again after what happened in the European Games. We are good friends, we talk on Instagram but I just want to get that win back so we are 1-1. Hopefully, it’s me and him in the final.”
Whittaker’s seeding meant he didn’t box on the first three days of the event in London and the 15-month delay left him wondering whether he should turn professional.
“There was that thing in my mind saying ‘I might just go pro’,” he said. “All these things are getting cancelled, it was 50-50 if the Olympics was going on and I'm thinking ‘why am I wasting my time waiting?’
“You see people like Teofimo Lopez, who is 23, my age, he’s unified world champion now so that annoyed me a little bit.
“But, at the end of the day, we all have our own paths, I’m in a great position now where I’m world No 3 – so why give that away now? I’m going to try go to these Olympics and do something.
“I didn't think the Olympics would happen. but we have the green light now.”
Every bout from the European Olympic qualifier from June 4-8 will be streamed live on olympics.com
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.