Ben Whittaker believes Callum Smith remains Britain’s leading light heavyweight.

Smith was stopped in January by Artur Beterbiev, and the combination of that defeat, the perception that Anthony Yarde was more impressive against the Russian, albeit also in defeat, and the anticipation surrounding a likely fight between Yarde and Joshua Buatsi – who in February recorded his finest victory when beating Dan Azeez – has contributed to Buatsi-Yarde being seen as capable of determining Britain’s finest at 175lbs.

On Sunday at London’s O2 Arena, Whittaker recorded eight valuable rounds when he largely eased to a decision over Leon Willings, another British light heavyweight, and the Olympic silver medallist has come to be seen as potentially the best of all. 

That Beterbiev, the IBF, WBA and WBC champion, and his fellow Russian Dmitrii Bivol, the WBO champion, are scheduled to contest the undisputed title on June 1 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia has also, according to Whittaker, led to his division becoming “backdated”, making him even keener to see a fight between Buatsi and Yarde.

“I was the man that was saying Callum Smith, just for what he’s done previously,” Whittaker, 26, responded when asked who’s the best of his domestic rivals. “His style; his stature; the way he gets knockouts. He can fight close; he can fight long. He does everything right. I’ve still got the edge to him, just because of what he’s done.

“You could say Buatsi maybe, but Buatsi hasn’t really fought that top, top level, and then [Anthony] Yarde, he’s another one – the level’s [of his opposition is] really low and then, fair play, he does jump up [in level, against Beterbiev and Sergey Kovalev] but the jump’s too big. Where Callum, even his fights that are not world titles, they’re high-level fights. His résumé’s better and he’s done a lot more; won a lot more.”

There remain suggestions that a fight between Buatsi and Yarde, which is likeliest to be staged at a venue in London in June, could be staged in Saudi Arabia despite being between the English capital’s two leading light heavyweights. Most recently Frank Warren, Yarde’s promoter, spoke of the need for the two fighters to accept a 50-50 purse split, and Whittaker said: “It’d be a great fight. The thing is with the light-heavyweight division, it’s such a great division, but everything’s backdated. 

“Bivol; Beterbiev; they’re fighting for the titles. People like Buatsi; Yarde; Callum Smith; they’re all fringe world-level; then you’ve got the people like me who’s there as well. When you get yourself to that Buatsi level you’re just waiting around; stagnating; missing months and years of your career, so why not fight each other? A fight like that opens up doors and it’ll be exciting.

“When you’re in talks there’ll always be that, ‘I want more’, and then, sadly, that’s when the fight fizzles out. It’s a great fight – they’re both kind of at the same level in my opinion. It’s a 50-50 – with the Saudi money 50-50’s amazing – so, 50-50, get the job done and you’ll be laughing. When it comes to little things like that you know who’s really trying to get their way out if they’re talking about too much. 

“I do like both guys. Pedigree-wise, Buatsi’s done a lot more, but then pro-wise, Yarde’s had a couple more tougher fights. He’s been over to Russia [against Kovalev in 2019]; that’s another experience for him. May the best man win. It’s a fight I’m looking forward to if it does happen.”