It’s been a while since Robert Whittaker has tasted defeat.
“The Reaper” saw his middleweight championship reign come to an end on Saturday night in Melbourne, Australia, when he was finished via strikes by Israel Adesanya.
Adesanya, the interim champ, unified the middleweight title in the second round of the UFC 243 main event, handing Whittaker his second knockout loss and first setback at 185 pounds. Whittaker hadn’t fallen short since February 2014.
The fallen champ’s fight with Adesanya took place almost entirely on the feet, a strategy that may have surprised some, given that “The Last Stylebender” is known for his striking expertise. But Whittaker made no apologies for his strategy at the evening’s post-fight presser and chalked up his loss to the breaks of the game.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed,” Whittaker said. “But I took the fight to him. Me and him are two of the best strikers in the world, and it was tit-for-tat. And then I got caught. It happens. He beat me tonight, but I’m 28, this is my first loss in the division.
“Trust me when I say I’m not going anywhere. I am fortunate enough that I didn’t leave the Octagon with any injuries. So I look to get back in there and get back to work.”
Whittaker’s downfall began at the very end of round one, when a counter left by Adesanya resulted in a clean knockdown for the challenger. Though Whittaker showed few ill effects at the start of round two, coming out just as aggressively as he had at the start, it was a counter right that would later drop him and lead to the fight-ending sequence.
The punch that put Whittaker down came in the middle of a flurry, one of several that Whittaker initiated. He acknowledged that it was difficult to close the gap against Adesanya, but felt he was doing better than the end result might suggest.
“He’s tricky to hit,” Whittaker said. “He’s very tall, and he’s good at leaning back. He’s tricky to hit, and saying that I did hit him and I hurt him in that first round. … I tried to hit him. Yeah, who knows?”
“Any guy trying to get in on a tall fighter has to close that gap, and I was having a lot of success doing so,” he added later. “I was hitting him. In that first round I was hitting him, I was hurting him, I was doing work, I was doing damage. I felt really good out there, I felt like I was controlling the fight. And then I just got caught.”
Whittaker described himself as being the best he’s ever been, and that if a rematch were offered, he would take it.
For now, his immediate plans are to return home to take care of other matters, and then he can be back to fight preparation in two months. He emphasized that he feels healthy and is not injured.
Asked what he could have done differently in the fight, Whittaker stated the obvious before putting an optimistic foot forward.
“Not get hit,” Whittaker said. “I went out there and I displayed my heart and I showed my skill set, and I just came off second best tonight. That’s not to say it’ll happen two times in a row. When you’re fighting at this high caliber, at this level, every fight is on the line. It’s a tightrope. That’s what a lot of the fans don’t realize, we’re walking a tightrope out there, and everybody can beat anybody.
“Tonight wasn’t my night. But tomorrow might be.”