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Robert Whiteford 'f--king devastated' by UFC release, unsure of fighting future

Eric Jackman, MMA Fighting

The mixed martial arts world is unpredictable no matter your station or vantage point. That's not a lesson lost on Robert Whiteford, necessarily, but one he was reminded of this week. The one-time UFC featherweight was given his walking papers over the weekend, although he hadn't competed since April.

"Ah, s--t happens, doesn't it? F--k, what can you do? Life goes on," he told Ariel Helwani on Monday's The MMA Hour.

The Scotsman is of two minds of his release. He confessed to being surprised at the decision itself, but when viewed in the greater context of head-scratching UFC moves and manuevers, perhaps not surprised at all. "Very surprised, but are you ever surprised with anything UFC does these days? Not really," Whiteford noted. "But really, they do strange things, day in, day out, whether it's for good or for bad. You take everything with a pinch of salt with the UFC. That's the way I look at it."

Whiteford certainly received the news as a bit of a shock. Nothing in particular prompted it, that he can discern, anyway. "I was away for the weekend with my girlfriend. She booked it for my birthday. My manager phone called me on Saturday morning whilst I was away for the weekend. I couldn't believe it. I felt like ringing his neck," he admitted. "The main reason is I've lost two in a row. You can't really argue with that," he continued. "There's a lot of people been cut for two in a row and there's been people cut for less than two fights in a row. You can't really grumble with it."

Whiteford, one of the first Scots to ever compete in the Octagon, is coming off of an April loss to Lucas Martins, a split decision that didn't go his way at UFC Fight Night 86. The American Top Team product has no illusions about his last performance. As he saw it, it never went his way before the fight even started. Nothing looked good. To be let go now, in a way, seems entirely normal.

"My last fight with s--t, top to bottom," he admitted. "As I said before, some times it's just not your night to fight. I made that walkout to the Octagon. My 'Flower of Scotland' traditional homecoming music, it cut short. I entered the Octagon. Bruce Buffer announced my name, it cut out short. Things just weren't adding up. Some times it just doesn't go your way. I got f--ked over by a judge who scored it 30-27 Martins. I don't know what planet he was on. Maybe he was trying some of the Amsterdam local brew.

"But I believe that things happen for a reason in this world. When bad luck comes, it usually comes in threes. That judge was just my third bad luck on the night."

Justified or not, expected or not, Whiteford has strong emotions about his release. Trying to talk through what is a painful life event for him, he confessed on Monday to being hurt by the UFC's decision. "Obviously I'm f--king devastated," he said.

Whiteford noted when he wanted to be in the UFC, "it was a dream." At the time, no one else had done it. Others have come along since, most notably Joanne Calderwood, but for a country with a small training and competition environment, Whiteford said it seemed like an unattainable goal. Yet, somehow, he managed to persevere through. "My dream was to always fight in the UFC and I managed to do that. God knows how I done it, but I done it," he said laughing.

"It was one of the best feelings of my life," he continued. "It's never been a money thing for me, fighting in the UFC or fighting, in general. I'm just glad that I got fulfill the dreams I had and I can take those memories with me. No one can ever take them away."

The question for Whiteford now, however, is what's next? He's 33 years of age and realized "I've been fighting all my life. At some point, you've got to let it go." But when is that? He's not sure.

Part of that uncertainty stems from how he arrived in this position in the first place. This was never Whiteford's plan. A dream, maybe, but not a plan. "I can remember I started fighting in 2009 and I thought I'd be doing it for a year or two and I'd be out. It just snowballed and snowballed."

For Whiteford, the choice isn't easy. He admitted if he were still in the UFC, retirement would not be an option. "As long as your body can take the damage," he argued, he'd stick around. But he's out now, which means he can fight and try to win his way back to the UFC or just move on. And, as he put it, he'd like "flip that switch" over to a normal life at some point.

Truth be told, plenty in the MMA space and his home country are cheering for him to continue. He was reminded of it when he tweeted he'd been let go by the UFC, a response he claimed took him by surprise. "I never realized how many fans I had until I put that news out," Whiteford said. "When I put that tweet out, I've never been so humbled in my life. The reaction from the Scottish supporters has been unbelievable."

The issue for him is not whether he can win and keep going, but if he wants to put himself through that. When the UFC returns to Scotland, something matchmakers told him would be happening soon, he could be on it if he keeps going on the regional scene. But as he gets older, that's getting less and less appealing.

"There's not one doubt in my mind I could put together another couple of wins and get back in that UFC Scotland card, but you know what? As I said, I'll be 34 years old next year. To go another year without making money and fighting for nothing just to get back to where I've just been from, the UFC was f--king great to me. I had a great time, great spirits, great memories, but it's not giving me money to retire on based on the work I had. I just busted my ass off to get all the way there, then to get there next year again for it to just happen again.

"It doesn't last forever," he explained. "Everybody gets caught or retires at some point. As I say, I'm going to be 34 next year. That's the options I'm looking at.

"When do you choose to call it a day? When do you choose to switch it off? If I don't switch it off, I'm going to fighting all my days. I'm a born fighter. Would you ever be happy walking away from everything, saying 'I'm done fighting'? Never. It's never been my mindset to think, 'Enough of this fighting'. At some point, you've got to call it a day."

Whiteford isn't happy about going 2-3 in the Octagon, but believes there are more successes than failures. He lost his UFC debut, but it was on short notice. And he lost his last fight, but that was close. In terms of wins, he scored a KO victory in the UFC's debut in Scotland, while also besting Daniel Pineda fighting for the first time in the United States.

"I started fighting in 2009 and I made the UFC in three years, representing my country at the highest level. Registered the first knockout. I'm happy with that," he noted. I'm definitely happy with what I've done with my career in fighting and my life in general. I'm a kid coming from Scotland with nothing. I've done well."

Now comes the question of not merely what to do next, but when to make that call. For right now, "it's too soon for me to make that decision," Whiteford declared. He's going to take the rest of the year off from fighting, although he might compete at the end of 2016 to see how he feels about putting a run together to get back to the UFC.

And while he wants desperately to fight one more time in Scotland for the UFC, it can't just happen under any circumstance. The truth is, the release from the UFC has come at a time in his life that has forced a reevaluation of his priorities, which means a reevaluation of his present.

"As in for getting a carrot dangled in front of me and getting asked to fight four, five wins and then getting back and then 'let's talk about it', that's definitely not in my thoughts. If I hear that once coming from [UFC matchmaker Sean] Shelby or the UFC, then I'm gone. I'm gone for good."

But if another arrangement can be made, is he still in? According to Whiteford - who has overcome the odds to accomplish so much already - anything's possible.

"If they give reasonable offer," he said, "then I can maybe work towards that."

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