14/04/2024

Robert Whittaker will rematch Israel Adesanya this weekend in the hopes of getting his belt back. Photo:@UFC_AUSNZ/Twitter.

Robert 'The Reaper' Whittaker is not letting the external noise or pressure affect him ahead of his rematch with Israel Adesanya at UFC 271.

It has been a long and somewhat difficult road back to the title picture for Australia’s first ever UFC Champion, Robert Whittaker (24-5, 14-3 UFC).  ‘The Reaper’ lost his belt when he was defeated by second-round knockout to Trans-Tasman rival and upcoming opponent, Israel Adesanya (21-1, 10-1 UFC) at UFC 243 in October 2019.

Post-fight, Whittaker discussed how he felt burnt out and as a result took an absence from the sport to focus on his own personal health and wellbeing.  

Since then, he has strung together a three fight win streak, earning three dominant unanimous decision wins over top contenders such as Darren Till, Jarred Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum to find himself fighting for the title once again.

Whittaker took a nine month break between his loss to Adesanya and return against Darren Till, using the time away from the sport to re-assess. Since his return, Whittaker has looked a much improved fighter and admitted he is a much happier person in general.

“Since the loss I’ve just been focusing on the journey, focusing on taking each fight as it is and enjoying it. I wasn’t thinking I have to get back to that title shot,” Whittaker told the media.

“That’s why throughout the procedure people were asking me, ‘you don’t want that title shot?’ No, I did want it, it’s just it wasn’t something that was I was fixated on. I was working on things, I was working on myself, I was working on the game and I was enjoying the process.

“I know all roads lead to Rome sort of thing, so as long as I’m winning and getting better and enjoying it, I’ll be here eventually.”

Whittaker has not shied away from admitting that he was not himself when he fought Adesanya, and that he allowed his opponent and the magnitude of the event to get into his head.

“I think back home I was putting that pressure on myself and those expectations on myself and that was the biggest thing resulting in a lot of pressure,” said Whittaker.

“After the fight I was burnt out, I recognised the signs, I didn’t want to jump back in the gym, I wasn’t enjoying the game and I had to sort that out because I wasn’t going to drag my feet. This game is too dangerous, this game takes too much out of you to go at it like that.

“I realised that if I didn’t enjoy the process and the road that led me here I was not enjoying half my life, because I spend a lot of time training and fighting and in fight weeks.”

Whittaker has now found peace in the fact that the result will be what it will be, not allowing external noise to affect him.  

“I have great confidence in the work I have put in and that alleviate any doubt that I have moving into this fight,” Whittaker said.

“I know what is waiting for me after the fight regardless of the win or loss and I know why I fight, what drives me, and I am very satisfied.

“I just want to get in there and make a very good account of myself. If I get in there and execute my game and I do everything that I work towards and I give the best performance that I can give, I’ll be a happy man.”

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In analysing the first meeting, many pundits have said that Whittaker needs to be more patient rather than rushing in. That he should look to mix up the striking and wrestling in order of having a chance of regaining the Middleweight title. However, Whittaker has taken a relaxed approach to the fight itself, not setting any goals or expectations of how he wants the bout to go. He is instead prepared to take it as it comes.

“It’s one of those things that I could sit there and dissect it forever, but at the end of the day all I can try and do is get better holistically and try and go into this fight and give it another dig,” he said.

“A fight is so dynamic, he (Adesanya) is trying to actively stop whatever I am working on, and I am doing the same.

“I guess I would like to hit him a lot, if I can get him on his back that would be a good thing as well, but we will see how the fight goes.”

While mental preparation is one of the largest changes Whittaker has made from the first fight, this training camp has seen him work under legendary Australian boxing trainer, Johnny Lewis to help prepare for Adesanya’s high level striking.

“He’s just got a good head for the game, he’s nurtured so many champions, he’s just got an aura of confidence, his personality is contagious,” explained Whittaker.

“To work in that environment and have him mentoring, giving feedback, giving tips on how to change things just by the slightest margin to get so much more out of it, I’ve had a lot of good work this camp.”

Lewis has trained some of the biggest names in Australian boxing such as Jeff Fenech, Jeff Harding and Kostya Tszyu.

UFC 271 goes down on Sunday 13 February and can be ordered via Kayo, here.

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