Boxer Jason Whateley has qualified for the Olympics in Rio. Picture:Joe Armao It’s a long way from the footy fields of Lakes Entrance and Wyalong to boxing in the heavyweight division of the Olympic Games, but Gippsland’s Jason Whateley is well into that journey.

The 25-year-old heavyweight, who has been training at the AIS ahead of training camps in Queensland and Colorado in the United States, famously took up boxing at 17 after a local footy club “grudge match” and found a sport that helped focus his natural skills.

“When I was 17 I got into a few little scraps and a little bit of trouble when I got into footy,” the former ruckman explains.

“I used to enjoy the boxing sessions that we would run every now and then, so the opportunity arose when the Bairnsdale Boxing Club would run an annual tournament and they’d get two footballers and they’d train up the rival clubs at Bairnsdale. So one would go to one gym and one would go to the other and you’d training for six, seven, eight weeks and then have a fight against each other and it would be the main event on the card at Bairnsdale.

“It was just mainly to draw a big crowd really. You know, everyone down in the country loves their footy so you get two blokes, two footballers, that everybody knows having a fight against each other it gets a bit of interest. So that’s what I did, won it by TKO and fell in love with it mate, gave the footy away.”

Whateley’s late arrival to the sport saw him narrowly miss the London Olympics after coming second in the Australian qualifier, although his mother had tried when he was younger to see him follow her boxing brothers into the ring.

“Funnily enough my mum actually tried to get me into a gym when I was six to start boxing,” he says. “She’s a big supporter of boxing and she likes it as all her brothers fought and she just wanted me to get in there and learn a little about boxing and also get a bit of discipline, but unfortunately the trainer at the time said I was too young and didn’t take me on. But I found my way back there 11 years later.”

Whateley says while boxing in recent years has taken a back seat to mixed martial arts in the public eye, he finds that the amateur ranks provide the perfect way for fighters to channel their skills and improve their lives.

“I’m definitely been a firm believer that it has,” he says of the focus the sport provides. “It’s definitely changed the way I look at life and the way I do things so it’s been really good more me, I can’t praise it enough, it’s a great sport and it’s been fantastic for me.

“I look at boxing as purely skill based and I think all boxers are great athletes. Also in the amateur boxing it is always the best fighting the best all the time. In the amateur boxing there is no such thing as a mismatch, it is always a fairly even match. The referee has always got the best intentions of the fighter at heart, he is always doing the right thing and if he thinks you are in trouble he’ll stop it. If there is too much blood he’ll stop it. So it is not as barbaric as people think, I think it is just looked at the wrong way sometimes and I think it is really just a gentleman’s sport.”

And with this in mind Whateley does not see a change to the professional ranks anytime soon.

“I am looking beyond the Olympics but I don’t think I’ll turn pro. It just doesn’t interest me at the moment,” he says.

“The interest in the pros at the moment is not high; there’s not much money in it and, like I said before about the mismatches, I don’t like that sort of thing. With the amateurs … every time I get into the ring it’s quality opponent whether it’s the best in Australia or maybe even best in the world so I think at this stage by turning pro it could lead me downhill rather than (up). I like to think I’m still learning the sport and I want to keep improving.

“I want to stick to the amateurs and also we’ve got the Gold Coast just around the corner, the Commonwealth Games. I mean what an awesome experience to be in your home country and walking out to fight, so I’ll be hanging around for that.”

Whateley heads to Queensland in coming weeks to acclimatise for Rio in the heat before flying to the United States in late June. He knows there’s a lot of hard work ahead.

“At the moment we’re basically just working solely on strength work, we’re not going to hard yet since we are 12 weeks out. Once we hit our 10 week block it will start to really ramp up then. So at the moment the training is going really well, just working on my weaknesses and just trying to tidy up my strength work and injury rehabilitations.”

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