Polite, quite, and mild mannered. These are just some of the words used to describe this unassuming young man of 28. Focused, determined, and accomplished would be others. Yet it is so rare to hear his name mentioned when browsing all the various MMA media outlets out there.
Boasting ( if he even would do such a thing) a record of 20-4-0, Robert Whittaker is the reigning, defending, and undisputed champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s middleweight (185 lbs) division. Yet, the same qualities that likely earned him Australia’s GQ Sportsman of the Year award are probably the reason that he doesn’t get the level of media attention and hypes that other UFC royalty get.
He doesn’t talk trash or disparage his opponents. He doesn’t perform media antics to hype up a fight. And most of all, he will not throw a dolly through a bus window ( I mean- yawn, right? Boooooring) In other words, he’s no Conor McGregor. He chooses instead to let his actions inside the cage do all the talking and hyping for him. But in an age where controversy is a key ingredient in bringing MMA to the forefront of the minds of casual fans, this can be a detriment. Amongst other issues, plaguing injuries have prevented him from remaining an active fighter and thus not remaining a staple conversation topic amongst the MMA media today.
What people seem to forget is how he got those injuries in the first place. Allow me to remind you: He fought a monster….TWICE! In a July 2017 bout, he won the interim title in by facing a man that everyone; including the then “reigning” champion Michael Bisping- was ducking. That man’s name is Yoel “Soldier of God” Romero, the Cuban born former Olympian who UFC commentator Joe Rogan repeatedly describes as being ‘built like a fuckin’ superhero!’ from which he came out victorious via a unanimous decision despite suffering a knee hyperextension in the very first round – courtesy of a nasty low side kick from the soldier- that later required surgery and rehabilitation to recover from. He is then promoted from interim champion to champion when the count ( Michael) said ‘nay ‘ to a unification bout but ‘yay ‘ to a final cash grab before retirement in a big money fight with former welterweight king George St. Pierre which I think Michal likely knew in the back of his mind would be his last as champion… but I digress. Robert then defended the title against, who else? Yoel Romero, almost one year later in another 5 round Fight of the Night-winning war from which he emerged victorious yet again via split decision but from which he did not come out unscathed. Amongst other bumps and bruises, he suffered a broken hand ( probably from punching the man of steel in the face so many times) He spent 2 Fights…NO. 10 Rouds….NO. 50 minutes locked inside of the cage with this savage and survived. To grasp the magnitude of that, one need only search YouTube for a Yoel Romero Highlight reel to see what this man does to other men’s bodies with his own.
If that doesn’t deserve some props in this sport, I don’t know what does.
“Yoel gave me his best for ten rounds and couldn’t put me away,” said Whittaker in a Feb 5 media scrum promoting his upcoming fight with Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 243 in Melbourne. “ I went ten rounds with a monster. No one else has.”
With the Yoel chapter closed, a new one begins for him on Saturday , February 9th 2019, in Melbourne Australia, where he will finally get the chance to defend the his title on home soil in front of his own people . How he performs this weekend will be absolutely critical, as it will influence the trajectory of his career for years to come. If successful (success in this case being defined yours truly as a spectacular decisive victory- no controversial decision or something of that nature) , this could propel him to a higher level of stardom, make his name better known amongst the casual MMA fans, make him an even bigger star than he already is in Australia and finally get him the recognition he deserves. But Kelvin Gastelum is no joke , At 15-3-0, he’s laid waste to a murderer’s row of assassins to earn his title shot. They’re both young. They’re both hungry. And I don’t foresee either shooting for a takedown and submission. I see high kicks from Robert, flurries of punches from Kelvin, and fireworks over Melbourne. It’s going to be AWESOME!!!!