“The Reaper” lost in a middleweight championship rematch to Adesanya at UFC 271 this past February, but bounced back in a big way at UFC Paris with a one-sided unanimous decision win over top contender Marvin Vettori. It was the 13th win in his past 15 fights for Whittaker — currently No. 2 at 185 pounds in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings — whose only losses during that stretch have come to “The Last Stylebender.”
Having held onto his No. 1 contender spot in convincing fashion, Whittaker made it clear his goal is still to once again be UFC champion.
“I’m hunting that title shot,” Whittaker said on a recent episode of The MMA Hour. “That’s what I’m doing and that’s what I’m always going to be doing because that’s the only up direction. I’m a fiend for progress, I just want to move forward.
“I want to move up. And whoever’s got that ‘C’ above me, whoever is above me in the ranking is my next target, obviously.”
Whittaker raised eyebrows in his UFC Paris post-fight speech when he declared himself “the most dangerous man” in the middleweight division, a statement that needed some clarification given his two losses to Adesanya. He explained on The MMA Hour that he typically inflicts more damage on his opponents than Adesanya does, a comment that is particularly pointed given the criticism that Adesanya has received in recent months for championship defenses that have been relatively drama-free.
“I’m the most dangerous man in the division,” Whittaker said. “Izzy, he’s the champion of the division, he beat me the last fight as well. He’s a great fighter. But I’m the most dangerous man. I can beat anyone in the division. That last fight against Israel I got within a hair’s breadth of taking everything away from him. Just the fights that I’ve been in and the opponents that I’ve had, I’m not just beating them. I’m flogging them. There’s a difference in that.
“I’m hurting these guys and that’s what makes me so dangerous. It’s because I don’t just come to the fight to win, I come to break my opponents. And I’m not a big talker or anything, but mentality-wise, that’s what I do when I go in there. I don’t go in there expecting to leave there. … That’s why a lot of the injuries I have when I leave the octagon, it’s because I’ve done them to myself. Throwing too many kicks or throwing too many punches with reckless abandon, it’s just how it is.”
Regarding the shift in perception surrounding Adesanya, Whittaker chalks it up more to the opponents that Adesanya has fought as opposed to any changes in the champion’s strategy.
“Israel’s fighting the exact same way he has always fought,” Whittaker said. “He’s a picture-perfect defensive striker that uses his physical attributes perfectly with the way he fights. The only difference now is that he’s fighting much higher quality guys and they’re harder to stop, harder to go away, a bit tougher. He’s always fought that way. He’s always fought defensively, safe. And he gets the W. I guess that’s what you want.”
Whittaker has teased moving up another weight class after starting his UFC career at 170 pounds and he believes that if he ever goes up to compete at 205 pounds that is the division he’ll someday retire in. For now, he’s looking ahead to Adesanya’s next title defense against Alex Pereira, which takes place at UFC 281 on Nov. 12.
Whoever wins, Whittaker is confident that he remains at the front of any championship contender discussion.
“I know that I have one more shot against Izzy if that’s what it is or if he gets dethroned I definitely have another shot at gold,” Whittaker said. “I think getting that third fight with Israel will be a deciding point for that or whoever else it is.”
“Definitely [there will be a third fight with Adesanya,]” he added. “It would be silly not to because I’m just running through everybody else. Especially the way the second fight left off, I’d have to have come the closest since he’s gotten the title to taking it back off him.”