At 29, Robert Whittaker believes he is still at the top of his game. The former UFC Middleweight Champion has been looking to rebound since losing his title to Israel Adesanya a few months ago. Now rejuvenated mentally and physically, Whittaker is ready to start a new chapter of his career.
Whittaker (20-5) is set to face off against Darren Till this Saturday, August 25. This comes after an extended time off to escape every aspect of the world of MMA. “The Reaper” was initially supposed to return at UFC 248 against Jared Cannonier, but he pulled out of the bout. With rumors stating he was giving bone marrow to his daughter, Whittaker admitted that he was suffering from a mental drain. Not seeing his family was a huge factor.
Speaking with the media before UFC on ESPN 14, Whittaker discussed how he feels now that he had that opportunity to reflect.
“I was hungry… That break I had was exactly what I needed,” Whittaker stated to MMA Junkie. “It lit a fire in me, it brought the enjoyment and happiness back in what I do. A lot of people don’t realize that the fight itself is 15-25 minutes. Every other day is training, every hour you spend in the gym, that’s the rest of life. That’s what I had to come to grips with; enjoying it again. Having that break and being away from the game… it reinvigorated me.”
Turning professional in 2009, Whittaker joined the UFC in 2012. Winning The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes Welterweight Tournament, Whittaker started 3-2 with the UFC before joining the middleweight division in 2014. He was 8-0 in the division, becoming UFC Middleweight Champion by beating Yoel Romero at UFC 213 in 2017. He would beat Romero a year later in a non-title bout (Romero missed weight) before losing to Adesanya in October.
During this time, injuries affected his career as well as exhaustion. Now, he is confident heading into his bout.
Whittaker faces a welterweight title contender in Till (18-2-1), who just recently returned to middleweight. Starting his career (2013) in the division, Till made his welterweight debut in 2014. He joined the UFC in 2015 and is 6-2-1 in nine fights. “The Gorilla”, with ten wins via knockout, would lose to then-UFC Welterweight Champion Tyron Woodley and Jorge Masvidal before beating Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 244 in November.
When it comes to the fight, Whittaker believes he has a significant advantage. He believes his natural ability (9 wins via KO, 5 via submission) can take Till out.
“His biggest threat is his left hand and he knows that as well,” Whittaker went on to say. “That’s where I think I match up so much better against him than he does with me because my biggest threat is too many of them. I have so many dangerous shots, I’m so creative. I have so many angles I can exploit. He’s got his left hand. That’s all he’s got. Everything else I got covered.
“He runs that down the pipe and he’s so well at using it. I’m not taking anything away from him, he’s used it on a dozen guys and he’s knocked him out so I’ve got to be aware of that, I’ve got to give it respect, but I got so many angles he has to be aware of.”
UFC on ESPN 14 is the last event on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.