Robert Whittaker is more prepared for the weight that comes with being a UFC world champion heading into his rematch with Israel Adesanya.
Whittaker will challenge Adesanya for the middleweight title in a rematch in the main event of UFC 271 on Feb. 12 at the Toyota Center in Houston. In their first meeting at UFC 243, Adesanya became champion when he knocked out Whittaker in the second round.
“The Reaper” was a loss that took much away. Whittaker hopes to leave the Lone Star State this year with his head high, but with more effort.
“Moving into this next fight with how happy I am, how satisfied and confident in myself, in my life, and in my career at the moment, I’m gonna go into this fight and give it my absolute everything, the best of everything that I have, and be satisfied walking out of there,” Whittaker said. The overwhelming feeling after that fight was, well, dissatisfaction. It was hard to be happy. Unsatisfied. I feel moving into this next fight I’m going to get that satisfaction.”
Whittaker admits that he may not have been fully prepared for what being a world champion entailed. During his battle back to the opportunity to right the wrong against Adesanya — which includes wins over Darren Till, Jared Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum — he’s had the time to reflect on his first run with the title.
Other fighters who have held the title such as Rose Namajunas, Anderson Silva, and Demetrious Johnson have been open about life as king or queen of a division, and how losing the title actually created a feeling of freedom in a way. Whittaker can attest to that, along with the growth he’s accumulated since losing the 185-pound belt.
“There’s some similarities for sure,” Whittaker told MMA Fighting. The person I am now is vastly different than the one I was before I got the belt. It has made me happier and more content with my life than ever before. The second time I get the belt, I will have a better idea of the direction I want it to take.
“There’s that whole thing that some fighters lose their drive once they reach their target, their goal. Although I doubt that I ever suffered that kind of suffering, it is something I can remember. It was an aspect of what I did, because I enjoyed the progression in my career. It was a pleasure to be [ranked] Number. 11, then No. 8, then up to No. 7. I loved that progression, I’m a gamer at heart — in my head, that just appeals to me. I think I needed time to come to grips with the title and how that changed the dynamic. Unfortunately, once you reach the top you don’t get much time .”
Since capturing the title, Adesanya successfully defended against Yoel Romero, Paulo Costa and Marvin Vettori. “The Last Stylebender” also looked to make history and become a two-division champion but came up short in his bid to capture the light heavyweight title at UFC 259 this past March, dropping a unanimous decision to then champ Jan Blachowicz.
There’s an old Shakespearean saying, “Heavy is the head the wears the crown,” which in essence is something Whittaker has been thinking about since his first reign came to an end. Should he walk out of Houston with gold around his waist on Feb. 13, Whittaker will be ready for it.
” Many people believe that winning the title of champion is easier than actually holding it. Whittaker said this because the fights are hard and the outside factors involved in being the champion make the difference. “You’re the champ, you’ve got the belt, you know how to fight. There is no doubt that the skill set of these fighters are very high. However, you were not affected by the same factors.
“It was not until I got the belt and lost it that I decided to take a step back from the game and look into my soul. I looked at my thoughts and realized why I do what I do. I also understood what my true legacy is. I asked for advice on how to make people feel about me, my behavior, my goals, and the impact I would like to have on others. This was all due to some soul-searching after the loss.