Ben Whittaker says he was on holiday relaxing last week when he got the call to box on the undercard in Jeddah, but had no problem cutting the trip short for the chance to box on the Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua bill on Saturday.
Whittaker, who won a light-heavyweight silver medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo last year, made a successful professional debut three weeks ago when he knocked out Greg O’Neill in the second round in Bournemouth.
He had been due to fly to Miami to help Anthony Dirrell train for an upcoming fight, but instead went on holiday. But Whittaker, who is managed by Joshua’s company 258, then got the call to box Petar Nosic, of Croatia, an unbeaten professional whom he beat as amateur.
“I went to Barcelona and was chilling out, next thing I know I have got a phone call and they said they have managed to get me on the bill,” Whittaker said. “I said ‘I’ll pack my bags and be on my way’.
“I wanted to go back to Miami, but I had a little niggle. That meant I was eating whatever I wanted. It was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down, another fight, another opportunity to showcase my skills. Activity is key for me, so if I get the opportunity to fight, I will fight. I’m never turning it down.
“I got told on Friday. I arrived at 5am Tuesday morning. Forget my fight, just to see the main event, this fight week, seeing how that is, I’m using this situation to see what AJ and Usyk go through. I’m using the experience of being here.
“It’s travelling too. I don’t just want to be stuck in England, so coming out to Saudi in just my second fight is good. I know I have been around the world as an amateur, but this is different. It’s an experience I can tick off.”
The late call meant it was a rush to get his team together, as his trainer Sugarhill Steward, needed to rearrange his plans
“It was way too late for any fans to come over,” Whittaker said. “My dad is trying to sort out work, so hopefully he will make it. Sugar is coming over, but it will just be my small team. But it is just me and the other kid in there.
“I fought him seven years ago and I stopped him then, But you can never pre-judge these things. He’s unbeaten as a pro, 6-0, 50 percent knockout ratio, so he will be trying to get revenge and I will be switched on.
“It’s like a League One club playing Liverpool on a stage like this. If he beats me, it’s good for him.
“If I hadn’t been here, I would have been chilling out, probably watching the fight with my mates and eating what I want.
“As soon as I got the call, I went and stepped on the scales. Fortunately, I was on fight weight already, I am not a person who balloons for some reason.”
Whittaker’s debut garnered plenty of attention, as he did plenty of showboating in the first round before producing a showreel knockout in the second round.
“My debut had a lot of people talking whether it was good or bad,” he said. “That’s what I want to do for the first couple of years, get my face out there, get known and start climbing the championship rankings.”
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.