When Robert Whittaker captured the interim UFC middleweight title last year, Michael Bisping was already the UFC’s reigning 185-pound champion. The two never got a chance to fight though.
Bisping lost back-to-back contests a few months later, first dropping his title to Georges St-Pierre at UFC 217, then suffering a first-round knockout at the hands of Kelvin Gastelum at UFC Singapore. The latter performance eventually wound up being the final fight of Bisping’s career. “The Count” announced his retirement from mixed martial arts on Monday, bringing an end to a 14-year journey that will surely result in Bisping being enshrined into the UFC Hall of Fame.
Reflecting back on the situation, Whittaker admitted Thursday that although he campaigned for the Bisping fight last summer, he’s happy that it never came to fruition, especially when he considers how everything ended up playing out.
“I think he’s a true warrior,” Whittaker said of Bisping on a UFC 225 media conference call. “I really do. He’s done it all. He’s lost, he’s won, and he’s become champion. He’s a true test of endurance and determination. I really do, I think a lot of people can learn a thing or two watching his career.
“In terms of fighting him, from one fighter to another, there’s a lot of respect in terms of wanting to fight each other. There would’ve been a lot of respect there and a lot of honor earned, but I’m happy not to have fought him, just due to the fact that I’ve always watched him and, if I’m going to be honest with myself, I’m a bit of a fan of his, to be honest.”
Whittaker, 27, now looks to forge his own legacy as UFC middleweight champion. “The Reaper” is slated to make the first official defense of his strap on June 9 in a rematch against top contender Yoel Romero at UFC 225. Whittaker previously defeated Romero via unanimous decision in a gritty performance at UFC 213 to capture the interim belt and preserve his undefeated 7-0 record at 185 pounds.
Injury sidelined the Australian champion for months after Whittaker’s win over Romero. Whittaker then had to withdraw from a scheduled title defense against Luke Rockhold in February after a nightmarish series of injuries and illnesses kept him bedridden for weeks. But now that he is back and 100 percent, Whittaker is excited to begin building the type of résumé that may one day see him celebrated alongside the Michael Bispings of the world.
“Creating a legacy is one of my overall objectives in my career as a fighter,” Whittaker said. “And it didn’t stop when I got sick. That is part of the legacy and that is part of my journey. Being sick and going through those turmoils and hardships is what makes the rewards so sweet, or what makes getting over those bumps and those obstacles so glorifying.
“[Romero] is a tough guy. He’s the No. 1 contender, and after beating Rockhold, he deserves a shot. He’s beaten everybody else. There’s just me and him now. Defending the belt doesn’t mean much to me. My ultimate goal is just to fight the top dogs, the boogeymen, the bad guys. So I look forward to fighting Romero.”