It’s been an incredible ride to the top of the UFC’s middleweight division for Robert Whittaker.
The Kiwi who resides in Sydney has been on a tear since moving up to 185lbs, winning his last four straight, and landing himself inside the top 10 of the UFC’s rankings at number seven.
With an explosive fighting style that is as deadly on the feet as it is on the mat, Whittaker has finished 12 of his 19 professional fights. His resume boasts the likes of Uriah Hall, Clint Hestor and Brad Tavares and will likely see “The Reaper” fighting a top five contender with a win over Rafael Natal at UFC 197.
It is not surprising then that UFC President Dana White sees major potential in the 25 year old. He even went as far as to tell the Daily Telegraph that he considered Whittaker one of his favourite fighters. With the very real possibility of fighting for a title in the near future Whittaker could do for Australian/New Zealand MMA what Conor McGregor has done for the sport in Ireland.
While Whittaker is flattered at the interest the UFC brass has in his burgeoning career he maintains that his focus is solely on the next fight, nothing more or less.
“It’s nice that the boss has taken an interest in me. That’s awesome, y’know? It’s always good to be liked by your boss but it doesn’t do much for me. My fights are won on the mats not in the papers. It doesn’t impact my fight with Natal at all, not one bit. It doesn’t make me one percent more likely to win. It’s great for my profile but I’ve got to put that aside and keep training with the same fervour as before.
“I’m sure Natal doesn’t read the papers so he doesn’t give a s**t.”
Natal is riding a four fight win streak himself and is currently ranked number 13 in the division. The Brazilian is a black belt under the tutelage of Renzo Gracie and is well known for taking fights the distance. The ever respectful Whittaker acknowledges the talent his opponent brings to the table but claims he will be too much for “Sappo.”
“I’ve got to respect his skill set. I think his opponents in the past have underestimated his skill set and that’s why they lose a lot of the time. He’s a rugged dude who has good hands and a black belt in Jiu Jitsu. He’s got good wrestling and he’s persistent. He’s determined to get the job done. But I’m going to be too fast, too strong and too aggressive. I’ve been working non-stop on my striking, grappling and wrestling and I’ve literally trained twice as much as ever before. I’m going in there at a 100 mile an hour and I’ll unleash on him all my new skills.”
Despite being on the best run of his career, Whittaker admits it hasn’t always come easy and there has been times when he has wanted to throw in the towel. Like most young athletes the temptation to take the easy road and live a “normal” life can be overwhelming. It’s in these moments that Whittaker recognises the role his father has played in keeping him on the right path and focused on the end goal.
“He got me past the first few hurdles. When I wanted to quit, or hang out with my friends and I wanted to ditch training to have fun…he pushed me through those bits. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him.”
With a career on the rise and MMA growing in favour across Australia, Whittaker knows that he will inevitably become a role model himself for the next generation of fighters who seek success in the big leagues. Although the Sydney-sider doesn’t partake in watching MMA in his spare time he does relish the opportunity to inspire those who want to pursue the sport as a career.
“Being a good role model for people that grew up like I did and want to make a name for themselves in this sport, it is something I care about. I want to show people that hard work and determination can get you anywhere. Even if you don’t want to pursue fighting, I want to be the kind of role model that shows people the healthy way of training and the benefits you can get from martial arts. I’ve got some ideas around this that I want to pursue in the future but at the moment I’m on a run to be the best and I’ve got to focus on that.”
Whittaker will venture to Las Vegas 10 days prior to the fight to make sure his body has adjusted to the time and climate difference. Whilst the Kiwi loves fighting in Australia he is excited to be highlighted on a Pay-Per-View that is being headlined by the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, Jon Jones, in the fight capital of the world no less.
As for who he thinks will win in the main event, Whittaker is backing the current champion, Daniel Cormier.
“I’ve got a soft spot for Cormier but it’s going to be a killer fight, y’know? It’s two super athletes and I’m just excited to watch.”
Whittaker fights Natal on the 24th April at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on Pay-Per-View (AEST). The full fight card details are noted below.
Main card (Mainevent PPV):
- Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones – UFC light-heavyweight title
- Demetrious Johnson vs Henry Cejudo – UFC flyweight title
- Anthony Pettis vs Edson Barboza
- Robert Whittaker vs Rafael Natal
- Yair Rodriguez vs Andre Fili
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports Australia):
- Sergio Pettis vs Chris Kelades
- Carla Esparza vs. Juliana Lima
- Danny Roberts vs Dominique Steel
- Glaico Franca vs James Vick
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass):
- Marcos Rogerio de Lima vs Clint Hester
- Efrain Escudero vs Kevin Lee