Former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker put on a brave face after a second loss to Israel Adesanya, vowing to continue on his mission to retake the title after a unanimous decision setback in the headliner of UFC 271.
That said, Whittaker believed that after five rounds with Adesanya, he should have been declared the winner.
“I thought I did enough,” he told reporters at the post-event press conference at Toyota Center in Houston, which hosted the ESPN+ pay-per-view event. “I thought I did enough. Breaking it down, I think I lost the first round, I put myself back together. I think I beat him to every punch. I got takedowns.
“I thought I did enough, but it is what it is. That’s how work goes in the office. So I want to go back, evolve some more and get better. Fine tune the things that I’ve been working on, and come back a better man.”
It was clear that, at least on the improvement front, Whittaker was an unqualified success after a knockout loss to Adesanya in their first meeting in 2019. Three straight wins gave Whittaker the chance to win back UFC gold, and after a rough first round in which he was dropped, he made adjustments that made the fight more competitive. Two of three judges scored the bout 48-47, or three rounds to two, for Adesanya.
“Honestly, though, at the moment, Izzy was my biggest hurdle,” Whittaker said. “He beat me in a good fashion the first time, so I’ve been working and angling myself to get better, and I’ve done that. You can see in this fight I just had with him, how much [farther] I’ve come, to the point where I think I beat him. So I’m excited for the future. The ceiling is nowhere in sight. There is no ceiling for me, I believe.”
Whittaker said nothing apart from a shot that sat him down in the first round was enough to hurt him. He touted his ability to get inside the tall middleweight’s reach and score punches. Although he took plenty of damage to his legs from kicks, he felt his performance was more complete.
“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want this popping up in a highlight reel, screaming, ‘Rob thinks he won,’” said Whittaker, predicting news headlines of his appearance at the presser. “I’m not taking anything away from him. Literally, he won. He got the belt, that’s how it works. The judges gave it to him. That’s the game, that’s the business.
“I have nothing but respect for his skill set. I’m proud of myself for getting back on the horse after that first loss, putting myself together the way I did, and taking it to him again. I don’t think there are a lot of people that could have done that.”
From here, Whittaker said he’ll regroup with family and get back to work. While he came up short again against the champ, he predicted no one else would capture the title in his stead and another opportunity would present itself.
“A third fight is inevitable, because I’m going to stomp anybody that comes in front of me again, and he knows that, too,” Whittaker said. “My mission stays the same: beat the next guy in front of me.”
Whittaker said in the octagon after the fight, Adesanya told him he would see him again. It was one moral victory to take from a heartbreaking outcome. It might not have been entirely accurate, either.
“I said, ‘Maybe,’” Adesanya said of Whittaker’s statement that a third fight was inevitable. “I said, ‘You rack up some good wins, and I’m sure I’ll see you down the line.’ I say that to kind of just pat them on the butt – ‘Ah, good job, kid.’ But we’ll see. I mean, the division’s filled with killers, but I’m looking forward to fresh meat.”