Robert Whittaker says ego cost him in loss to Israel Adesanya

    It hasn’t been an easy path back to a title shot for former UFC champion Robert Whittaker.

    After he lost the middleweight title to Israel Adesanya in October 2019, Whittaker has come storming back with three straight decision wins over the division’s top contenders: Darren Till, Jared Cannonier and, most recently, Kelvin Gastelum.

    His Fight of the Night main event win over Gastelum in April 2021 was a shutout on the judges’ scorecards. After Adesanya defended his title against Marvin Vettori two months later, it became clear that Whittaker was next in line.

    At UFC 271 on Feb. 12 at Toyota Center in Houston, Whittaker (23-5 MMA, 14-3 UFC) challenges Adesanya (21-1 MMA, 10-1 UFC) in the main event. After Adesanya knocked him out at UFC 243 to win the belt, Whittaker said he needed to make some changes, and it started by admitting his own ego may have gotten in the way.

    “”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’s performance against Gastelum was of particular importance on his climb back to a title shot. While his wins over Till and Cannonier were close fights – 48-47 on all three scorecards in his headliner against Till and 29-28 on all three against Cannonier – the win over Gastelum never really was in doubt.

    Whittaker outlanded Gastelum 169-70 and hit four takedowns in the fight. If he started correcting his mistakes from the first Adesanya fight against Till and made some more adjustments against Cannonier, it appeared he put everything together against Gastelum.

    “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.”

    There were mistakes Whittaker says he made against Adesanya the first time. And while those mistakes would appear to be physical in nature to most observers, Whittaker thinks a lot of it had to do with the way he approached the fight mentally and emotionally.

    Will the rematch be different? Whittaker thinks it will be.

    “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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