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Robert Whittaker reignited after ‘failing to perform’ — ‘I want to finish my career undefeated from this point’

A motivated “Reaper” is a dangerous “Reaper.”

UFC 290 did not go according to plan for Robert Whittaker. Despite having some early success, the former Middleweight champion couldn’t be any more upset with how things unfolded on International Fight Week 2023.

Taking on surging South African contender, Dricus Du Plessis, Whittaker suffered a stunning second round upset loss via technical knockout (watch highlights). As a result, “The Reaper” missed out on a much-desired future trilogy bout against the current champion, Israel Adesanya. The 32-year-old Australian legend compared his most recent losses with each name mentioned and can’t help but see the Du Plessis shortcoming as a massive motivator to rebound.

“It is what it is. I do believe that this was the kick in the ass I needed to really take me to the next level,” Whittaker said on The MMArcade Podcast (h/t MMA Fighting). “It helped me align a few of my goals, like goals of titles and winning and beating ‘Izzy’ and now Dricus. I want to finish my career never losing again. I want to finish my career undefeated from this point.

“And I do believe that this is the wake-up call that I needed to really free myself in a sense, to address a lot of the things that I’ve gotten away with that I didn’t last fight, that would have caught up with me, that did catch up with me in the last fight, that would have eventually anyway,” he continued. “And it’s a lot of things that I’ve gotten away with throughout my career just because of my speed, athletic ability, instincts, eyes, all that sort of jazz.

“Mate, spending 10 months, 11 months between fights, putting all that work in, and then to get to center stage and not do any of it was really, really disappointing for me,” Whittaker concluded. “Really, really disappointing for me. Because you see, like, in that second fight with ‘Izzy,’ I lost, but at least I did what I trained for. So, this fight, I did nothing and I just let down my coaches. And I know they don’t feel that way, but I do. I let down my coaches, I let down my fans, and friends. But, I don’t know, this feeling, I am using this feeling as energy, I am using this feeling as a drive, because I don’t want to feel like this again, mate.”

Losing hasn’t been commonplace for Whittaker in his career (24-7), especially at Middleweight where Adesanya and Du Plessis are the only two to have bested him. In recent memory, Whittaker’s rebound efforts have been some of his more impressive, making his eventual return an anticipated one. He hopes to fight again before 2024.

“I went out there with the intention of putting my best foot forward and giving the best performance of my career, and ended up giving the worst performance of my career,” Whittaker said.

“That’s the hardest part about the loss is just that I know I can do better,” he continued. “I beat myself, in a funny sense. It’s not performing. And a lot of the other athletes and a lot of the other fighters will tell you about it, and they’ll talk to you about it and they’ll say, when we’re asked a question, ‘Are you scared?’ No, no, it’s never fear of my opponent or fear of getting beaten up or fear of getting hurt. It’s fear of failing to perform. It’s fear of going out there and not doing what you trained for the last four months, four hours a day in the gym, seven days a week — and then to go in there and do none of it.

“And that’s kind of where I’m sitting in this room, what I’m upset about, because I put months and months and months of work into the fight and working things with my different coaches, with my boxing coach, jiu-jitsu, grappling, wrestling coach — and I went out there and I did absolutely none of it,” Whittaker concluded. “Like, absolutely none of it. The work just went out the window.”

Typically sound with his defensive wrestling, Whittaker found himself in some adversity late on the ground in round one with Du Plessis. “StillKnocks” managed to steal back the round with some hard ground-and-pound shots, stopping the action in round two after dropping “The Reaper” with a jab.

“That’s the most upsetting part, because not only did I lose — losing is one part — but I didn’t do anything I worked on, and that’s just disappointing because I’ve only got myself to blame on that,” Whittaker said. “And this isn’t taking anything away from Dricus, because Dricus, he trained, he showed up ready to fight, and he fought, he turned up. And that’s half of the fight, isn’t it? And I didn’t. I didn’t. It’s a funny job to not turn up in, mate. Let me tell you.”

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 290: “Volkanovski vs. Rodriguez” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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