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UFC Fight Night 101's Robert Whittaker: 'It's about time I get the respect I deserve'
MELBOURNE, Australia – Robert Whittaker is a former winner of “The Ultimate Fighter” and is unbeaten since moving to the UFC’s middleweight division, but he knows he isn’t viewed at the top of that weight class just yet. At UFC Fight Night 101, Whittaker believes that all changes.
“I’ve been flying under the radar a bit, and it’s about time I get the respect I deserve,” Whittaker told MMAjunkie.
Whittaker (16-4 MMA, 7-2 UFC) meets Derek Brunson (16-3 MMA, 7-1 UFC) at UFC Fight Night 101, which takes place Saturday (Sunday in Australia) at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. The event airs on FS1 following early prelims on UFC Fight Pass.
It’s a replacement headliner, bumped up to the featured slot when a planned bout between former UFC champ Luke Rockhold and fellow top contender Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza was scrapped. Whittaker admits that takes a little of the shine off his first UFC main event, but he’s exciting by the opportunity, all the same.
“When I fist entered the UFC scene, I said, ‘You know what? One day I want to be the last fight, I want to be headliner,” Whittaker said. “And here I am. To be able to do that in my home country? Unreal.
“It’s still a headliner, and I still stepped up. It was me they called to step up in that position, and I was stoked. … It is what it is, and I’m still happy and blessed for the opportunity.”
It’s a key fight in the UFC’s middleweight division. After all, while current champ Michael Bisping’s immediate contender is expected to be Yoel Romero – and Rockhold and Souza seem to occupy the positions just behind that – Brunson is currently ranked at No. 6 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA middleweight rankings, with Whittaker at No. 11.
Like Whittaker, the fight (and event, itself) is flying a little under the radar outside of Australia, but “The Reaper” realizes the importance – and the quality – of the contest.
“The MMA fans out there know about this fight, and they love this fight because it’s going to be a killer fight,” Whittaker said. “For your casuals – you know, your tourists – they don’t really know. If you’re not the champion or the top contender or have a big mouth, then you fly under the radar a little bit. But it’s going to be a good fight. It’s going to be a killer fight. It’s definitely one to watch.”
Whittaker won the 2012 season of “The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes” as a welterweight, but he’s really hit his stride at 185 pounds. Just 25 years old, Whittaker said he always knew middleweight would eventually be his home, and he’s happy to leave single-day weight cuts of 18 or 19 pounds behind.
“I always knew I was supposed to go up,” Whittaker said. “I just didn’t know when. I probably could have done it a few fights earlier.”
And now, Whittaker has his opportunity to prove he deserves to be considered among the division’s elite. But first, he must get by a stiff test in Brunson, who boasts five consecutive wins, as well, four of which have come by first-round knockout.
“He’s going to come out aggressive, he’s going to try and take my head off, but I’m going to be too fast,” Whittaker said. “I’m going to pick him apart. My striking is crisp, and it’s unorthodox. It’s hard to read. You can practice all you want against someone, but my hands come from everywhere, and I hit hard. People are going to need to realize I do hit hard. I don’t think he’s going to like being hit, and I think he’s going to quit.”
And if that happens, Whittaker could be among that list of fighters – including Gegard Mousasi, as well – who is, as UFC President Dana White likes to say, “in the mix.”
“It’s a division full of opportunity, and I’m there for the long run,” Whittaker said.