Rafael Natal was willing to play Whittaker's game Saturday night.
And that made for one entertaining slugfest. Despite a lead left leg beaten raw by Natal leg kicks, Whittaker plowed his way forward to victory at UFC 197. The judges' scores were 29-28, 30-27, and 30-27 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The opening round set the tone. Whittaker moved forward and landed a shot or two. Natal countered. They answered one another strike for strike until Whittaker began to land more, and harder, toward rounds end.
Things picked up in the second, as both fighters continued to lay heavy leather on one another. Again, though, Whittaker managed to landed the harder shots, getting Natal into trouble on several occasions, but the durable Renzo Gracie fighter managed to weather each storm.
The action finally slowed a bit in the third round as the damage accumulated. Once again, though, Whittaker got the best of it when the fighters did engage. Whittaker landed a big head kick in the fight's closing seconds to remove any doubt.
Whittaker, a former TUF Smashes winner, improved to 16-4 with his fifth straight win. Natal (21-7-1), in his 15th UFC fight, had a four-fight win streak snapped.
After the bout, Whittaker indicated he injured his hand early in the fight.
"I hurt it probably in the first round," Whittaker said. "He has a hard head. But I kept going."