UFC Paris: Robert Whittaker on rediscovering love for MMA and Israel Adesanya’s ‘inevitable’ trilogy

Robert Whittaker is a former UFC middleweight champion

Three years ago, Robert Whittaker was UFC middleweight champion, winning his last nine fights and on top of the world.

He lost his belt after being brutally knocked out by Israel Adesanya in Australia at UFC 243, but more importantly, the Aussie said he was taking time off from MMA.

Whittaker was scheduled to make his return in March 2020, but pulled out, citing personal issues.

The 31-year-old spoke to BBC Sport ahead of his fight with Italian Marvin Vettori at UFC Paris on Saturday about what forced him to walk away from the octagon.

“I was exhausted from the game,” he said.

“The main reason I took time away from fighting was because I needed to re-evaluate and re-identify myself as a competitive athlete and as a fighter.”

The loss to Adesanya marked Whittaker’s 25th professional fight. He had competed at least twice, sometimes up to three times a year since 2009.

After ten months, Whittaker came back in style, picking up impressive victories over Darren Till, Jared Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum in less than 12 months.

The break confirmed Whittaker’s love for the sport.

“I had to step aside and live my life to figure out what I wanted to do and see if the hunger was still there, because I don’t do things half-baked,” he said.

“I ended up finding my way back to the octagon and I’ve been doing pretty well ever since.”

Victories over Till, Cannonier and Gastelum led to a rematch with champion Adesanya in February, but Whittaker lost via unanimous decision.

Despite the loss, Whittaker’s love for competing in MMA has never been stronger.

“The love is still there. It’s probably there more than it’s ever been,” Whittaker said.

“I enjoy the game and I enjoy the journey – and I’m damn good at it.”

“I’m Going Nowhere” – Whittaker

Rob Whittaker looks dejected as Israel Adesanya is announced winner
Whittaker lost twice to champion Israel Adesanya

The former champion will make his bid for another title shot when he takes on Vettori this weekend.

The Italian has five defeats to his name, plus wins over Paulo Costa, Kevin Holland and Jack Hermansson – and like Whittaker was beaten by Adesanya in a title fight.

Whittaker becomes suspicious of the threat Vettori poses.

“He’s been at the top of the food chain for a long time. He’s a badass,” he said.

“That’s part of the reason why I put off this fight. [because of the injury]. So, I wanted a full camp, I wanted to be at 100 per cent capacity and go there to see how he does.”

A win over Vettori will put Whittaker firmly back in the title picture, but he believes Adesanya will want to avoid a third fight despite the New Zealand fighter holding two wins over him.

“He’s the champion and that’s the threat to him. Especially with how close the last fight was,” he said.

“It’s in his interest to avoid this fight at all costs.

“My goal remains the same – I will come in and beat everyone in front of me.

“So they have no choice but to give me this fight. I’m not going anywhere. It’s inevitable, this third fight between me and him.”


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