Reigning UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker will try to end the Israel Adesanya hype train later tonight (Sat., Oct. 5, 2019) at UFC 243 live on ESPN+ PPV from inside Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Australia, when he meets "Last Stylebender" in a title unification headliner.
While many are tuning in to see if Adesanya can cash in on his perfect MMA record and hoist UFC gold less than two years removed from his Octagon debut, others will be watching to see how Whittaker performs in his return to action. Remember, the Australian champ hasn't competed since a split-decision win over Yoel Romero at UFC 225 in June of 2018.
Despite his long layoff, Whittaker is confident in his return against Adesanya. That's partially because "Bobby Knuckles" believes he's better than anyone "Last Stylebender" has ever faced, including Adesanya's last opponent, middleweight contender Kelvin Gastelum.
"If Gastelum can do that much work, I can,” Whittaker told MMA Junkie. “I like to think I’ve got a better skillset than Gastelum. I think I have a better skillset than Izzy. Let’s just see how it goes.”
Whittaker's track record and skill set should certainly give him confidence entering UFC 243, but the 185-pound king will be asked to do more than he ever has before when he steps inside of the cage. That's because Whittaker will be defending his middleweight title in front of nearly 60,000 hungry Australian fans. It will be the first time Whittaker will be competing in his home country since he knocked out Derek Brunson back in 2016.
“This fight in this atmosphere in this arena with these numbers, one, I’m making history,” Whittaker said. “Two, this is a huge milestone for me. This is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to defend the belt here in Australia, and I’m doing that.”
Beyond the long layoff and historic title defense on Australian soil, Whittaker will still have to perform when the main event sets sail. It's going to be one of the toughest fights of his career given Adesanya's striking prowess and knack for spectacular performances.
“I think (Adesanya) is super deadly,” Whittaker said. “I think he’s a very talented and great fighter, but hell, I’m still up-and-coming, you know? I’m not going anywhere, anytime soon.
“Honestly, I am more excited for how I come out of this fight, for the work that I’ll put in after this fight to the fighter that I’m going to become from this fight, because every year, I’m getting better. Every year, I have harder fights, and I’ve got a lot of years left in me.”
“Obviously, I’m not looking past Israel,” he continued. “He’s a very hard opponent, and honestly, it’s going to be a very hard fight, and I know this. I’ve prepared for this. But, the only sure thing that I know after this fight is that Monday I’m going to go home and see my kids. That’s it.”
So how exactly does Whittaker plan to defeat Adesanya when the two meet tonight at UFC 243? While the champ's game plan could change mid-fight he'll be looking to drag "Last Stylebender" to deep water and make him pay late.
“I don’t think he’s going to be able to withstand the heat that I bring – and I’m not looking to finish him; I’m looking to drag this into a five-round war. I’m going to drag him into the trenches.
“I’m going to do what Gastelum did, but better. Let’s see if he wants to leave early.”
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 243 fight card below, starting with the Fight Pass/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN2 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
To find out who else is competing at UFC 243 click here.