When Robert Whittaker met Israel Adesanya for the first time back in 2019, he couldn’t have possibly imagined a worse outcome.
The former middleweight champion was nearly unrecognizable as he charged forward at Adesanya while swinging wild punches and looking like a much different fighter than the person who had won nine straight before that night.
Looking back now, Whittaker wouldn’t even attempt to pinpoint exactly what went wrong against Adesanya because it would probably be easier to just say everything.
“[I’d] probably keep my hands up a little higher,” Whittaker joked when addressing the fight at UFC 271 media day. “There’s too many. It’s one of those things, I could sit there and dissect it forever but at the end of the day, all I can do is try and do is get better holistically.”
Perhaps the hardest pill to swallow from that first meeting is that Whittaker knows he just didn’t give any kind of real account of himself in that fight.
He’s readily admitted a slew of mental hurdles he was unable to overcome, which forced him to make significant changes in the aftermath of that loss.
On his best night, Whittaker is quite sure that there’s no real gap between his skills and those possessed by Adesanya but there’s no point in talking about it now because he actually has to prove it at UFC 271.
“I’m not taking anything away from his win,” Whittaker said. “He beat me quite handily. It’s one of those things as a fighter who loses, you always feel like you can do better. That was especially present in that fight. I feel I could do better. Like I said before, if I get in there and give a good account of myself and give my best performance, I’ll leave happy. I did not do that in that fight.
“I think our skill levels are much closer than that first fight dictated but I don’t know. I lost. I can’t really comment too much on it. Maybe they’re not. I guess we’ll wait for this second fight to find out. But one thing I do know, I’ve worked my absolute butt off to get here and to get in there and give a much, much better showing than the first one.”
Beyond the technical aspects of the fight, Whittaker acknowledges he’s just in a much better place ahead of the rematch and that’s largely credited to dealing with the burnout he was feeling as he set foot in the octagon for his last encounter with Adesanya.
“This one’s much happier,” Whittaker said. “I’m just enjoying it. I feel I’m a much happier person. I realized that if I didn’t enjoy the process and the road that led me here, I was not enjoying half my life. Because I spent a lot of time training and fighting and in fight weeks so it’s a job and I’m enjoying it.
“There were a lot of mental things that I got sorted post fight but I couldn’t quite deal with until I had that ‘L.’ Those mental changes stimulated the physical changes that I’ve made in the game and myself.”
As far as what he expects to be different in the rematch, Whittaker could once again just shout everything but he’ll refrain from giving away too many secrets right now.
“I guess I’d like to hit him a lot,” Whittaker said with a smile. “If I can get him on his back, that would be a good thing as well but we’ll see how the fight goes.”