Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President, Dana White, made it no secret leading up to UFC 254 that he saw Jared Cannonier vs. Robert Whittaker as a No. 1 contender eliminator match for Israel Adesanya’s middleweight title. That, even though Adesanya took the title off Whittaker just 13 months ago, and Whittaker had only clinched one listless decision win over Darren Till since.
But, White honestly sounded more interested in having Whittaker rematch Izzy than fresh challenger Cannonier because of the waves the fight would make in Australia and New Zealand. White clearly has some metrics in a spreadsheet somewhere that are telling him it’s the biggest fight for his Kiwi champ at 185 pounds.
“With Rob, he’s looking at it like, ‘I already beat this guy’” White told the Daily Telegraph. “I don’t think Izzy’s looking at it the right way. But if Rob wins this weekend, I will explain it to him.”
After Whittaker took a hard-fought decision over Cannonier, White confirmed that he’d clinched the No. 1 spot in his mind.
“Adesanya has a lot of options, but the fight that makes the most sense right now is Robert Whittaker,” White said at the post-fight press conference. “I thought Jared Cannonier was going to be a much, much tougher challenge for him. He looked good tonight, so the Adesanya fight makes sense.”
When it was Whittaker’s turn at the podium he joked around about the fight, but sounded down ... so long as the timelines worked out.
“Uuuuuh yeah, he’s a tough fight, man!” Whittaker said with a laugh. “I’m not stoked to fight him. He’s a hard fight, he’s so good. And he only looked better in his last fight. And the fact that he beat me once already!
“But I feel like I’ve got a couple tricks I can roll out,” he continued. “I feel like I can play it differently this time. And honestly, I know he’s trying to do everything else and good on him to do that. I’m not thinking about him. Maybe he can think about it a little bit, he can go up to light heavyweight or heavyweight. Whatever he wants to do, doesn’t bother me. My plans are Christmas, my baby, and then hopefully our timelines line up then.”
Whittaker sounded like a man who’d spent enough of his career shaping his life around UFC’s frantic schedule. He made it clear when he was available, and it sounded non-negotiable.
“March, April? I got Christmas and the newborn in January. I don’t want to be thinking about a fight in the lead up to my newborn. All my kids, I’ve been thinking about fights. I’ve had my mind elsewhere, and I feel like I wasn’t in the moment. And I refuse to do that for this one.”
And if his timeline demands kill his chances at the next Middleweight title shot, so be it.
“I do want to fight him, one day,” Whitaker said, all zen. “Whether it’s in my career or in the parking lot as two old fellas one day. Yeah, I feel like our paths will cross again. As a warrior, it’s something I need to do. But I’m not worried about who I fight next. My whole mentality with this game is you line ‘em up and I’ll knock ‘em down. I’m good at that.”
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