Robert Whittaker and Israel Adesanya | Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images
Robert Whittaker knows he has one enormous hill to climb, but if he can do it he sees himself someday standing among the immortals of MMA.
Whittaker is two weeks removed from his second championship bout with Israel Adesanya at UFC 271, where he fell short on the scorecards against the promotion’s reigning 185-pound king. It was Whittaker’s second loss to Adesanya, though unlike their first meeting that ended with Whittaker being knocked out in the second round, the two stars went the distance in a much closer contest.
In an interview with Submission Radio, Whittaker — No. 2 at 185 pounds in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings — summed up why he isn’t overly discouraged by his losses to Adesanya and why he’s still confident that he has what it takes to defeat him.
“It’s been funny because there’s that underlying current of disappointment that I didn’t get the nod, that I didn’t walk away with the W, as I believe I should have,” Whittaker said (transcription via Denis Shkuratov). “But in saying that, on the back of it though, I’m very… like, I have that satisfied feeling, cause I went in there and I took it to him and I believe I made a great account of myself. And yeah, I really, really took it to him. Really, really took it to him. To the point where–I don’t know, I’m satisfied with my performance. I want more from it, I think every fighter does. I don’t think a fighter goes into a fight and be like, ‘Well, that’s the best you’ll ever see of me.’ But it’s one of those things, coming off that first fight with him, changing things up, I improved, I evolved, and I went in there and I gave it to him.”
“I lost the decision,” Whittaker continued. “But I’m the best middleweight in the world, and I know this. It screams in my soul. And knowing that, taking that from the fight, especially after the first fight because of the way the first fight went down, it wasn’t a close fight. It was a bad performance on my end and a great performance on his. So I took back a lot of the things that were lost in a fight like that. Because people don’t say, did you lose confidence? You don’t lose confidence, it’s just not quite the same. It’s always there lingering. I guarantee you I am 200 times better from this last fight than I was before it.”
Whittaker had to shake off a poor first round before battling back to make Adesanya work for the victory. During the live broadcast, there were questions about Whittaker’s composure on the still in between Rounds 1 and 2, but the former UFC champion insists that he was just being “cool, calm and collected.”
As the fight progressed, Whittaker stuck to a strategy of precise boxing and timely wrestling, which was enough to earn him two rounds on two of the judges’ scorecards. Whittaker believes he actually out-struck Adesanya, a former kickboxing standout.
“I think the game plan went really well,” Whittaker said. “Really, really well. It was obviously to have that fast jab in there, to make him pay every time he came in. And I believe I won every striking exchange when we got close together. My jab was on point, and I was mixing the takedown into the rounds and it was making him uncomfortable. He didn’t have any freedom in striking, and that was the game plan. I believe I controlled a lot of the rounds because of that.”
With Adesanya having cleared out much of the division (Whittaker was the champion’s second defense against an opponent he’d previously beaten) aside from a looming matchup with presumed No. 1 contender Jared Cannonier, there is the possibility that Whittaker could fight his way back to Adesanya one more time. He mentioned Marvin Vettori as a possible next opponent with “July or August” date in mind.
Should he get past Adesanya, Whittaker expects that to validate him as one of the best fighters of all time.
“It’s inevitable for another fight down the line,” Whittaker said. “There’s definitely going to be another fight down the line.”
“I’m the best middleweight in the world,” he later added. “Trust me. That’s my biggest takeaway. I have no ceiling right now, and I’m enjoying the process. And every fight you see a new developed and evolved version of myself. And honestly, there’s no ceiling. I’m gonna be the best ever, and it’s just a matter of time.”
Watch Whittaker’s full interview with Submission Radio here: