Robert Whittaker (17-4) is without question the top UFC prospect in this corner of the globe. With the Southern Cross tattooed on the left side of his chest and a Ta moko (traditional Māori tattoo) on his right shoulder, debates have raged for years about which country he represents. Having been born in Auckland but living his entire life in Sydney, Whittaker recently put the debate to rest on the latest episode of the UFC’s Road to the Octagon.
“There’s a lot of passionate debates about whether I’m Kiwi or Australian and I’m really proud to say that I’m both,” Whittaker explained.
With the weight of two countries behind him, Whittaker has found his stride since moving to the middleweight division where he has won six straight since joining the weight class in 2014. At 26 years of old and the sixth ranked middleweight contender, ‘The Reaper’ is one of only two fighters under the age of 30 in the top 15 of the division.
Whittaker stamped his mark at 185lb this past November when he headlined his first show in front of over 13,000 fight fans in Melbourne. In his first main event spot, Whittaker sent the Rod Laver crowd into pandemonium as he weathered an early storm only to turn the tables around and win in devastating fashion, knocking out Derek Brunson in the first round.
In the immediate aftermath, Whittaker made it clear that he was ready to fight the elite of the division. Fast forward four months and he will do exactly that as he straps on the UFC gloves once again to take on Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza (24-4) in Kansas City at UFC on Fox 24 this Sunday.
This is without a doubt the toughest test of Whittaker’s career. One of the greatest jiu-jitsu fighters to ever compete in the UFC, Jacare is an eight time jiu-jitsu world champion, former Strikeforce middleweight champion and a winner of seven fights inside the octagon with his lone loss being a controversial split-decision to Yoel Romero.
A formidable athlete and powerful striker, Jacare’s biggest strength is on the ground where he has 17 submission victories. Whittaker is under no illusions that he needs to keep the fight standing in order to win.
“Jacare’s ground game is next to legendary, there’s no secret plan in an envelope hidden away somewhere, it’s don’t go to the ground,” Whittaker said on the UFC’s Road to the Octagon.
With a 94 % takedown defence rate, the stats certainly suggest he can do so and Whittaker remains confident in his ability to stop any opponent including the formidable Jacare.
“The training for this fight is the best it’s ever been, my footwork, my hands, my striking game…if we keep it standing I’ll put him away,” Whittaker continued.
A win from Whittaker will likely propel him toward the top of the division and will be a huge step forward towards gaining a title shot.