Robert Whittaker is rejuvenated ahead of his first fight since losing the UFC middleweight championship.
“The Reaper” was in a breezy mood during media day for his upcoming fight with Darren Till this Saturday in the main event of UFC on ESPN 14. Shortly after losing his title to Israel Adesanya in October, Whittaker went on a self-imposed hiatus from competition, later revealing that he was suffering from burnout.
On Tuesday, there was no sign of a worn-out Whittaker as he answered questions from reporters with a smile on his face and tongue firmly in cheek. Asked about he and Till playfully suggesting they ditch their diets in the lead-up to their fight and meet in a 195-pound catchweight bout instead, Whittaker clarified that the chatter was all in good fun and that he’s as focused as ever.
“I was in the gym when I wrote that,” Whittaker said. “I don’t trust him and he doesn’t trust me, as cordial as we’ve been—and it’s good to be like that because I think you should be cordial like that. I think you should set role models for other people—I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him.
“After he said, ‘chips and dips’ I trained twice as hard. I hope he believes me, I hope he didn’t train, because I trained my absolute ass off and I’m going to come in there very, very good.”
Like most UFC headliners, Whittaker expects the the best from Till, an opponent that he signed on for with the expectation that they’ll have “a fun fight.” And if Till isn’t at his best for whatever reason, that’s even better news for Whittaker.
“I hope he breaks his leg on the way in,” Whittaker joked. “Then I’ll fight him with a broken leg.”
Whittaker elaborated further on the mental battle he’s dealt with in recent years, a stretch that has seen him deal with injuries and a pair of damaging five-round fights against Yoel Romero in addition to the stresses that every fighter deals with. He also pointed to more positive changes in his life—since joining the UFC, Whittaker has had three children and moved four times—as part of the reason his routine has become far more complicated as he gets older.
A key aspect of Whittaker balancing his professional and personal matters is the new level of communication that he’s established with his team.
“Honestly, just the open dialogue,” Whittaker said. “The open communication is just massive. Being able to tell them how I’m feeling and get feedback. Like, ‘I’m not feeling this session,’ or why I’m not feeling this session. Just to be able to talk like that is just massive. It’s done wonders for me.”
Whittaker said that quarantine has done wonders for him as he’s enjoyed kicking back, not worrying about his usual training schedule, and playing plenty of video games. When he returns to Australia from Abu Dhabi, he’ll have two more weeks of isolation before he can see his family again and he joked that he’s excited about having more alone time before returning to real life.
He declined to offer a definitive pick in the upcoming Adesanya-Paulo Costa middleweight championship matchup, but offered one more sly comment aimed at his peers.
“To be honest, I don’t like anybody in the middleweight division,” Whittaker said. “That’s it. If you’re in the middleweight division, I don’t really like you. But, I don’t dislike you either, so don’t get that confused. Don’t dislike, don’t like. Neutral.”