What is Robert Whittaker supposed to do?
- Former UFC champion Rob Whittaker will return to action this Sunday morning (AEST) against Marvin Vettori in Paris
- Whittaker will attempt to reboot his campaign for another shot at middleweight champion Israel Adesanya
- Another Australian, heavyweight Tai Tuivasa, will headline the card
He’s the second best middleweight in the world by a fair distance. Problem is, he’s lost to middleweight champion Israel Adesanya twice and it’s a rare thing for a fighter to get a third bite at the apple after missing out two times before.
So what else can Whittaker, who returns to the cage this weekend in Paris to take on former title challenge Marvin Vettori, expect to do?
Whittaker himself isn’t sure, but according to him he doesn’t need to be right now — so long as he keeps fighting and winning, everything else will fall into place.
He still feels he did enough to earn the win over Adesanya in their second fight back in February, which was the culmination of a long journey of reconstruction after he lost the title to the New Zealander in October 2019.
“I’m only 31, I’m just coming into my prime. The best is yet to come. I still want to fight everybody and beat everybody, that’ll keep things simple,” Whittaker said.
“I’m a better person, a better human and a better athlete for that second Adesanya fight.
“I had to put myself back together, because I was questioning everything. There’s a lot of questions when you’re exposed like that, when the worst thing that could happen does happen.
“It took a lot of fights, building and processes to get back to where I was for the second fight, and after I came out of that feeling like I’d done enough to win.
“I answered a lot of the questions I had, I took back a lot of the confidence I’d lost, and I’ll only be better for that.”
Whittaker is warmly favoured to down Italy’s Vettori, a former title challenger known for his toughness and durability, and he’d be as warm a favourite against anybody other than Adesanya.
Which is exactly why, should Whittaker triumph, his next move is uncertain.
He’s flirted with a move up to light-heavyweight, where he would be somewhat undersized, and he was briefly linked with a boxing bout against star cruiserweight Jai Opetaia, something he denies was ever seriously considered but would be open to in the future if the price was right.
As it stands, his only choice is to keep improving and winning, to continually prove he’s the best middleweight not named Adesanya and wait for his chance. There’s nothing else to do and, thankfully for Whittaker, that’s exactly how he wants to play it.
“In every fight I get better, and every fight I take something forward and improve. I completely believe that every time I step in the octagon you see a better version of myself than you did before,” Whittaker said.
“I take fighting seriously, there’s a lot of investment involved in terms of my headspace and physical attributes, and because of who I am and the way I take fighting – it’s fatal.
“I go into fights expecting there to be no tomorrow, and you don’t do that for fun. I don’t fight that way because it’s fun.”
Whittaker’s clash with Vettori will act as the co-main event of the UFC’s maiden trip to France, with Australian heavyweight Tai Tuivasa to headline in a bumper showdown with French star Ciryl Gane.
Victory for Tuivasa would open the door for a shot at heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou early in 2023.