UFC fighter Rob Whittaker has had plenty of time to reevaluate his career. Now is the time to fight your way to the top, writes ADAM PEACOCK.
In the big, mean world of prizefighting, Rob Whittaker is a bit of an outlier.
Whether in an octagon or a ring, many of the best at throwing a punch, kick or choke like to anticipate the action with words.
Conor McGregor, the most famous of them, waltzed in swinging arms and lips, cursing the wind, promising the world. For a while there, he delivered.
Floyd Mayweather has never been silent. Never beaten either, the prophet of profit.
Motorized vents can be great. Or they can headbutt the canvas, lights out, their fuse box blown by a knuckle sandwich.
It’s all part of the game. It’s time to talk. Then fight.
Whittaker, the outlier, can only be bothered by the latter.
Of course, he is confident. He is adamant that he will win his next fight on the long road back to the pinnacle of his trade, the UFC Middleweight division.
His adversary, the impetuous Italian Marvin Vettori, does not hesitate to open his mouth.
“I have no beef with Whittaker. I just want to destroy his face. Crush it,” Vettori said last week, jaw clenched for a bit of flexibility after his breakthrough proclamation.
Those words don’t anger Whittaker or plunge into a well-hidden bag of insults.
They make him laugh.
“I expect him to say that!” What is he going to say, I’m not going to hit him! Whittaker laughs at CODE Sports.
“Because I’ve always been on the outside, I’ve never been involved in this stuff, it’s hard for people to get a bite out of me.
“If he wants to do that, he can.”
Whittaker’s fight against Vettori is part of the UFC’s first big show in Paris.
The city of love. Long walks along the Seine, hand in hand, hearts full, beautifully intercut with MMA fighters trying to punch, kick and bar arms within seven shitty shades of each other. So romantic.
Whittaker took his wife, his rock, Sofia to Paris with him, as well as their youngest of four children, 18-month-old Jace, which means it’s not exactly a relaxing vacation on two fronts.
Still, Whittaker promises there will be a good dinner and time to see the sites after next Saturday’s fight.
Before that, there’s almost a week to channel his inner beast. The week will progress slowly. Minutes look like hours, hours look like days.
Whittaker is fighting for the first time since his February loss to Israel Adesanya, the gold standard middleweight since the Kiwi came to Melbourne in 2019, knocked off Whittaker’s block and took his world title belt.
After that fight, Whittaker plunged into the unknown of uncertainty. He lost the desire. I backed off and had to recalibrate.
He got back on track, winning three fights to set up a rematch with Adesanya for the middleweight crown in February.
The result was the same as the first fight, but it went the distance and resulted in a close decision, which Adesanya edged out on all scorecards. Many, including Whittaker, believed he had done enough for an upset. Adesanya, about as likely to hide an opinion as a TikTok star hides vanity, laughed off the summons.
Whittaker continued, and this time there was no post-Adesanya blues.
‘Night and day,’ Whittaker says of difference in mindset between two title fights
“Having that reflection (after the first fight) had a big impact. I had to reevaluate why I fight, what I want to do, where I want to go.
“Understanding this made me take a new perspective on training and what I expected from it. Always trying to change training so it’s never to the point of, man can’t wait for this be finished.
“And that process brought me here. Just a happy chappy.
He is ready to rumble with Vettori in Paris.
The winner, as millions of fight experts guess, will have a shot at winning November’s middleweight title fight between Adesanya and Brazilian Alex Pereira.
Could it be Adesanya-Whittaker 3?
“Honestly, I didn’t think about it. The goal is just to beat Marvin,” says Whittaker.
“You deal with the fallout afterwards. My timeline and thought process doesn’t extend beyond beating Marvin.
Whittaker knows exactly what’s coming with Vettori, who likes to pressure his opponent and has only lost twice in his last 10 UFC fights, both to Adesanya.
“(Vettori) is a tenacious fighter,” says the Australian.
“I have a lot of courage. Likes to turn fights into dogfights. Top of the food chain for a reason. I will do everything in my power not to let him lose his game plan.
“He wants to be in my face. My strategy is clear. I had months to work on it, to think about it.
“I will try to hit him as hard as possible and as fast as possible.”
When Whittaker is told that hitting the face in front of him is a rather simple program born out of months of planning and sweat in his gymnasium in south-west Sydney, he makes a pretty good point.
“The best plans are simple.”
A focused mind with a clear goal of winning the next fight is what got Whittaker back on track after his cooling off period.
Those days are long gone.
“It’s a different vibe when I’m doing my job, enjoying the process, enjoying the journey, the training.
“I couldn’t be happier and now it’s time to earn some bread,” he smiles with conviction.