Former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker rarely exudes many emotions before a fight, instead choosing to kill his opponents with kindness and a smile rather than letting anybody get under his skin.
That wasn’t the case, however, when he prepared to fight Israel Adesanya the first time in 2019. Back then, Whittaker allowed himself to get drawn into the hype and trash talk coming from “The Last Stylebender” as they prepared to clash at UFC 243.
Looking back now, more than two years later, Whittaker fully recognizes how he let his disdain for Adesanya get the better of him. The result was a second-round knockout loss.
“I got in my own head so much and I had so much grudge towards him and gripe that I wore myself out,” Whittaker said on Wednesday’s episode of The MMA Hour. “I had so much anger and hate, and I wore myself out.
“It got tiring being angry at him, and for no real reason. It’s not like he came to my house and stole my TV.”
The vitriol consuming Whittaker showed in his performance. He came after Adesanya with plenty of aggression, swinging wild shots rather than the cerebral approach he’d shown so often while serving as the UFC’s 185-pound champion.
Whittaker rarely watches his own fights, but that one was almost an out-of-body experience compared to almost every other opponent he’s faced in his UFC career.
“You can see how of out of the ordinary I fought,” Whittaker said. “How reckless, if you would, how I fought. I guess that’s the biggest regret I would have in that fight. I wish I fought like myself. I’m not satisfied with that.”
In the aftermath of that loss, Whittaker was forced to take a hard look at himself in order to rectify what went wrong. He knows the fight with Adesanya didn’t accurately represent him at his best.
“After the first loss, I had a big chunk of soul-searching and trying to understand myself and my own headspace,” Whittaker explaind. “That kind of set the foundation for everything else I can do. I get in my own head and try to dissect things to try and make things in my life easier, ever since that first loss.
“I find that if you focus on these little obstacles or why you’re feeling like this, you literally can make it better, and it makes the whole process easier.”
With his rematch against Adesanya just a few weeks away at UFC 271, Whittaker is confident that he’s fixed the errors that cost him so dearly in that first meeting while also improving his overall skills during a recent three-fight win streak.
Perhaps more important than anything else, Whittaker learned to let go of the unnatural amount of anger he felt towards Adesanya that was essentially eating him alive.
“I got over it,” Whittaker said. “Honestly, once I let that go, I started seeing him like everybody else. I don’t hate the guy anymore. If anything, I respect his skill sets.
“I respect him just doing his thing. That’s the thing. While I think his behavior’s a little [out there] sometimes, he’s staying true to it. He’s still doing it. He’s just him. I guess that’s the long answer: I don’t hate the guy.”