Robert Whittaker is ready to prove he’s a different fighter and it starts with his upcoming rematch with UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya at UFC 271 on Feb. 12 from Houston, Texas.
The first time Whittaker met Adesanya it came back in 2019 at UFC 243. Whittaker was the undisputed UFC middleweight champion at that time and had produced a perfect 8-0 record at 185 pounds since moving up from welterweight five years prior. Adesanya, who was rising the ranks quicker than anyone we’ve seen before, ended up defeating Whittaker with a second-round knockout and walked away with the title. “Last Stylebender” hasn’t relinquished it ever since.
With the rematch just one month away Whittaker is reflecting once again on what went wrong in his first meeting with Adesanya. It’s possible that Adesanya is simply the better fighter, but Whittaker believes his own ego was the biggest reason he lost his title over two years ago.
“Other opponents have tried (to get in my head like Adesanya did),” Whittaker told MMA Junkie. “I think it was a whole host of different things that got into my own head, and there was a lot of things on my end – it’s the way I handled them and the way I took them that made it worse.
“I think (Adesanya) even mentioned it – that my ego was something that affected me. As much as I don’t want to acknowledge my opponent for insight, my ego probably was a big thing, was a big part of why my head space wasn’t where it should’ve been for that fight – why I was letting the debate between Australia and New Zealand get to me, why I was letting all these little things get to me. It showed. The results of that showed in the way I was behaving, in the way I put the fight together and the way I was fighting in the moment. I’ve acknowledged all of that and you can see obviously I’ve come to terms with all of that and I’m a different fighter now than I was then.”
Whittaker, who has gone 3-0 since his loss to Adesanya back at UFC 243, seems to be in a better head space heading into his rematch with the champ. The former middleweight king has had plenty of time to reassess his mistakes and make the necessary changes to reclaim UFC gold in a matter of weeks.
“The only time I feel as an athlete you can correct yourself, you can do better, you can get better, is when you acknowledge your mistakes,” Whittaker said. “That’s what I’ve been doing since that first loss (to Adesanya). And every fight since that loss, I’ve been putting things together, acknowledging what I could do better, what I did wrong, what I could change, and it’s all led me to here. I’m very excited to get in there and put my skills to the test again.”
As far as a prediction for the fight, Whittaker believes a calmer approach will allow him to land better shots than he did in the first fight. It will also prevent him from getting countered by Adesanya, who many consider to be one of the very best strikers in all of MMA.
“Getting hit in the face – definitely that one (was my biggest mistake),” Whittaker said. “(But) probably my recklessness – I was recklessly charging in. I was falling into every one of his baits, every one of his traps, and just stubbornly trying to press forward, trying to press the attack, (and) rip his head off. That’s what was going through my head, and it didn’t work. It didn’t work. That’s not how I usually fight. You don’t see me fight like that in a lot of my other fights, forever.
“I have addressed it. I’ve reflected on it, and we’re going to try to get in there and do something different this next time.”
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