It’s been nine months since Robert Whittaker lost his UFC middleweight championship to Israel Adesanya in Melbourne, Australia. But following a tough, close win against Darren Till at UFC Fight Island 3, it looks like “The Reaper” still has that champion mentality.
“That was the most technical striking fight I’ve ever had,” Whittaker said during the post-fight press conference. “It was a chess match. I got a bit antsy in the first round and he made me pay for it. I remember thinking ‘Ugh, not like this!’ But honestly, got back up and got back to work, changed it up a little bit and it was a chess match from there. He was waiting for me to come in, I was waiting for him to come in.”
The bout ended with all three judges giving Whittaker the nod 48-47.
“I understood it was a very close fight,” he said regarding the call. “I think the second round was definitely mine, third round. Fourth round could have gone either way. I showed my championship level mentality and experience in that last round especially when it was so close in the hands on the stand-up game and then to finish it off taking him down was a big boon in the scorecards for me.”
What undoubtedly helped was a kick to Till’s knee that injured the Liverpudlian and limited his movement. Whittaker had no idea about the effectiveness of the strike until told during the press conference.
“The stomp?” he asked. “Oh. Oh! Gonna stomp more often, then!”
“It’s a weapon I utilize,” he added. “It’s a tricky kick, you have to time it well. The accuracy of that kick has to be done well. Obviously I did it from a switch stance, threw it from my right leg if I’m not mistaken, so it was a bit off-putting, a bit trickier. That’s the chess match, that’s why it was so technical. We were both trying to wait for each other to open up so we could capitalize on each other’s holes. That’s why I had to chip away at his defenses from the outside. The calf kick. The stomp. I had to work on the outside, not only does it do damage, it racks up points on the score cards.”
“It was a close fight. I think the takedowns weighed a lot. Honestly who knows how the judges score things. It could have gone his ways and I’d be whinging right now. It is what it is. Exactly as he says, sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t. I went out there, laid it on the line, displayed my skillset, and got the result.”
As for what’s next?
“My biggest thing right now is I want to go back to my babies and my wife. It’s why I do all this. And it’s why I can do what I do. It’s because of them. Honestly, I am championship level. Everyone can see that, everyone’s always known that. I wasn’t myself last fight, I believe that. Not to take anything away from [Adesanya], he’s a great striker. But I wasn’t myself the last fight. I think this is a good win. I’m a champion. With the belt, without the belt, doesn’t matter. Looking forward to getting back to work and seeing how that next fight goes.”
“I’m always ready for a championship title shot,” he said when asked where he thought he stood after the win over Till. And if not a title shot? “I don’t care. Never had. That’s why the UFC love me so much, because they line them up and I knock them down. That’s the plan. As fighters we shouldn’t be picking and choosing who we fight, we just fight who they put in front of us because eventually you gotta fight them all. That’s the game.”
Whittaker sounded pretty interested in the idea of getting booked on September 19th’s UFC 253, currently headlined by Israel Adesanya vs. Paulo Costa. And if something happens to the main event and he has a chance to step up into the top slop?
“Yeah, that’s a great time,” he said. “We have a bunch of guys who are preparing for that time, I’ll be preparing for around that same time. Hopefully we can all get on the same card, that would be great. We got a team, we’ll all be getting ready, and we’ll be ready. Jacob [Malkoun, Whittaker’s corner] was ready this week in case Darren pulled out!”
And while we doubt the UFC would have considered plucking Malkoun up from outside the org to face his training partner in the main event, they might actually consider putting Whittaker on the undercard for UFC 253. Because you can never have enough star power available just in case the Coronavirus or even just an old fashioned MMA SNAFU rears its ugly head.