Whittaker faced Adesanya in a rematch for the middleweight title in the main event of UFC 271 this past month, dropping a unanimous decision to the champion in a five-round battle. Following the fight, Whittaker felt he had done enough to win, and while that can sometimes be enough for a competitor, the record shows a loss — and that doesn’t sit well with the former world champion.
“It was a good performance and I executed the game plan, and I’ve come a hell of a long way since that first one,” Whittaker told MMA Fighting. “But I’m not happy with it yet. I’m not happy with it. I didn’t win. Even if I felt like I won and a lot of other people felt I won, I didn’t win. That sits with me. The next day I woke up not feeling happy. It eats at me still. I’m not happy to lose, otherwise, I wouldn’t be in this sport.
“The performance, I was proud of what happened and the way I conducted myself, the game plan that I executed. I’m still not satisfied and I can only make amends for that by taking it out on the next guy, and getting back at Izzy one day.
“But I know, at this time, I left it all there, and that’s the only reason that I’m not much, much sadder than I am because I know I left it all there. It was a great fight from my half and I took so much from it, but I don’t like losing. I know I can bring more of myself out. Maybe that’s part of my drive to seek that satisfaction, but it’s not there yet.”
In their first meeting at UFC 243 in October 2019, Adesanya officially began his reign as undisputed champion by knocking Whittaker out in the second round. That night sent Whittaker into a dark, yet quite reflective place to seek out the love he had for the sport that he found much success in.
Although he didn’t regain the 185-pound title, Whittaker was able to find some silver linings, which in comparison to their first meeting, is night and day.
“It’s not even close,” Whittaker explained. “After that first fight, and preparing for the second fight, there’s always that level of hesitancy, of caution, of what ifs, and that’s always present throughout camp, throughout training, and especially present in the fight because you can kind of see that come out in that first round. In the second round, it was like a bolt of lightning hit me and it was like, ‘It’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen like that. I’ve come too far.’ And you can see [rounds] two, three, four, five, I just get better and better.
“Leaving that fight, I felt like I’ve come full circle. I’ve completed the cycle, and I’ve left that fight so much better than when I went in. As you have seen, the progress, the evolution, it’s getting better, and mate, the future is limitless. There is no ceiling, and I’ve been focused on that because I’m so excited for that, for what’s to come. Me and Adesanya are gonna cross paths again, but the next fight will be very, very different.”
At the UFC 271 post-fight press conference, Whittaker confidently proclaimed that a trilogy bout between he and Adesanya is “inevitable.” To get there, “The Reaper” is well aware he needs to rack up some victories against highly ranked opponents.
The No. 2 ranked middleweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings has his sights set on a quicker than usual turnaround, as well as a name to help take that next step towards another meeting with “The Last Stylebender.”
“I think June, July is a pretty good time, just go straight back in there,” Whittaker said. “I didn’t walk away with too many injuries — just bumps and bruises — so if we can organize something for that period, it’d be good. I think my guys are already speaking to the UFC and organizing something soon so it should be a bit of fun.
“I think Marvin Vettori is the only one in the top-five I haven’t fought yet, so I think that makes the most sense. We’re both chasing the same thing, that third fight with Adesanya, so it makes perfect sense to have a date with him.”