Danny Whitaker has the odds stacked against him going into Friday’s  heavyweight-themed Ultimate Boxxer tournament after coming in as a late replacement. Some will say he has bitten off more than he can chew, but the Yorkshireman – known as ‘Big Dawg’ – begs to differ.  

Whitaker (2-0) is the least experienced boxer in the tournament. He’s also one of the smaller heavyweights in the draw, but the Yorkshireman is confident in his skillset, and believes he has a genuine chance of laying claim to the Ultimate Boxxer winner’s medal – the Golden Robe. 

“If I get it right on the night I think I can beat anyone in that tournament,” He said. “I wouldn’t be in there otherwise. I’ve only boxed the other week so I’m fit and I’m ready. A lot of these guys don’t know a lot about me and that works in my favour. I think some of them could underestimate me too.” 

Asked to describe his style, Whitaker surprisingly said: “I base my style on something a bit like a heavyweight Ricky Hatton”. That claim is bound to raise a few eyebrows – but it’s quite a compelling idea too. The Silsden man claims his fast feet, fast hands and mean, explosive left hook make the comparison at least partially relevant. 

“For a heavyweight, I tend to think I have good fast footwork and fast hands,” he said. “My style is orthodox, but it’s unorthodox for a heavyweight. You don’t see many heavyweights move like I move. The big lads like to plant their feet and swing punches whereas I move a lot more and get in and out of range. I think my fast feet and fast hands will be an advantage.”

So far Whitaker has the names of two stalwart heavyweight journeymen on his record, Phil Williams (3-19-1) and Miles Willington (1-10). 

Facing Willington held one or two lessons for 28-year-old Whitaker, as a relatively small heavyweight he had to box clever to take his points win over the weighty Grantham giant. Despite his losing record, Willington isn’t to be underestimated. In only his second fight he ran another Ultimate Boxxer entrant, Jay McFarlane, much closer than had been expected. 

Whitaker got the job done but is fully aware that he’s stepping out of the frying pan and into the fire when he faces Jonathan ‘God Speed’ Palata (7-0) in the first round of the tournament. 

Palata is taller than Whitaker and has more than twice the professional ring experience. He’s also stopped three opponents inside the distance. After the draw was made at the London press conference, the two men faced off. Whitaker’s sporting offer of a handshake was met with a cold stare and the mind-games got off to an early start. 

‘Big Dawg’ took it in his stride, but clearly didn’t think any better of his opponent for the gesture. He said: “The draw was a bit tense, but all the other lads were sound to be honest. The only one who wasn’t very talkative was the one who I ended up pulling out of the hat, Palata. Everyone else was chatting, shaking hands, wishing each other luck and all that, but he had his big man face on and didn’t want to talk to anyone, it was a bit arrogant but it is what it is. If he wants to be like that fair play to him. 

“I won’t pretend to be something I’m not and I’m a nice guy. I’m happy to shake whoever I’m fighting’s hand before the fight but now I certainly won’t be shaking his hand after the fight. When, hopefully, I get the ‘W’ I won’t be going up to him and saying ‘unlucky’, I’ll be just laughing.”

The Yorkshire fighter does have some small level of amateur pedigree. He took up boxing very young, he says, so lacing up the gloves feels like home. However, an unexpected turn of events took Danny away from boxing in his teenage years. He explained: “I had my daughter at 16 or 17. At that time I decided to knock it on the head a bit to spend time with her. I didn’t touch boxing for about seven or eight years, I ended up ballooning up to about 22 stone.

“So, then, eventually, I needed to get into something to lose weight. I ended up going training just to get the weight off but then, because I’m good at boxing, I got asked to have a couple of fights on the white-collar scene. I ended up having 20 and I won 19 of those. That was over about 3 years. Glen Banks then wanted to take it to the next level and sign me as a pro. I’ve had two fights now this year and won them both convincingly. 

“I understand I’ve not got as much experience as these guys, to be fair though look at Mark Bennett. He’s tipped as one of the favourites too and he’s only had five. He’s only a couple of fights in-front of me isn’t he?”

Hailing from Silsden, a small town in West Yorkshire, Whitaker has been well supported by his local community. Long before turning pro, he recalls selling 180 tickets for a white-collar bout, which bodes well for his prospects in professional boxing. 

Coached by Silsden’s own former world karate champion, Paul Newby, Whitaker has applied himself to finding some of the best heavyweight sparring in the north of England. Recent sparring partners include ‘The White Rhino’ Dave Allen (17-5-2), and Nathan Gorman (16-1), the Nantwich heavyweight trained by Danny’s boxing hero, Ricky Hatton.

Despite comparing himself to a British boxing legend, in Hatton, Whitaker gives off an aura of humble humility. He reinforced the impression with an honest assessment of his career prospects.

He said: “When I was thinking of going pro, I thought ‘If I don’t go pro at this age now, I’ll always be thinking to myself, what if I had?’ And I didn’t want to be one of those what ifs. I didn’t go into this thinking I’d be the next world champion, what I wanted to do was prove to myself that I could mix it with the professionals, and I’ve done that already, so I just want to push on and see how far I can go now really.”

So, he’s not frothing at the mouth for a world title, but clearly has impressive reserves of self-belief, going into a high-stakes heavyweight tournament in only his third fight. 

Looking elsewhere in the draw, Whitaker acknowledges Kamil Sokolowski as “one to watch”, crediting his experience against top level opposition. For many, that opposition will make the Pole favourite before the tournament starts. For others, it’s Whitakers opponent, Palata, that is viewed as the favourite. 

Whitaker has made a brave move in putting himself into such a mix so early in his career and the Yorkshire heavyweight is surrounded by bigger names and bigger men. ‘Big Dawg’ will be keen to remind them of the old adage though: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight. It’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

Danny Whitaker wanted to offer thanks to his sponsors, Luke Clothing, McNally AV, Drains 4U and Boxxfit. As any fan of small hall boxing knows sponsorship can make or break a boxing career in its early stages and Danny is very grateful to have the support of some fantastic businesses. 

Article by: George Storr

Follow George on Twitter at: @George_Storr1