Ahead of their co-main event bout at UFC Paris, Whittaker and Vettori had a memorable faceoff at the ceremonial weigh-ins this past Friday. As Whittaker approached Vettori for a handshake, it looked as if Vettori would reciprocate, but he instead pulled his hand back to taunt Whittaker.
Whittaker, the No. 2 middleweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings, went on to defeat Vettori by unanimous decision on Saturday. But the incident definitely stuck in his mind.
“Mate, I was filthy,” Whittaker said when asked about the fake-out on The MMA Hour on Wednesday. “Absolutely filthy. It was just grubby. It was such a grubby thing to do, and I understand where he’s coming from, he just wants to get in my head a little bit, because we’d been so amicable up until then. He was just trying to throw anything out there in the wind to try and ruffle the feathers. We knew he was coming. The coaches knew this was coming. But I want to say it didn’t bother, it bothered me. It really p***** me off.
“It’s one thing not shaking hands, I understand that. You keep your hand to yourself, you do you, I’ll do me. It’s another thing tricking me by putting the hand out and suckering me last minute. You don’t do that. I don’t know, it just seems like he broke a solemn rule, you know?”
Overall, Whittaker was amused by Vettori’s gag, though mostly because the Italian middleweight was so earnest in his approach.
“I was laughing because it was like ‘90s Kickboxer, he came over all serious and was like, ‘I’m going to thrash you,’” Whittaker said. “It just made me laugh. … I couldn’t [say anything], I was just laughing. That’s why I smiled. I was just smiling, I found it funny.
“I have all these conversations, I’m a big thinker. And I’m just thinking, ‘We’re going to fight tomorrow. I’ll see you there.’”
Whittaker was dominant on fight night, pushing past a slow opening round to dominate the action in Rounds 2 and 3. By the end of the contest, Vettori was bruised and battered.
It was another impressive performance by “The Reaper,” who has lost just twice at 185 pounds — both in title fights against current UFC champion Israel Adesanya.
Whittaker insists his aggressive approach had little to do with Vettori’s pre-fight antics or any need to prove something after losing to Adesanya at UFC 271 this past February.
“Not at all,” Whittaker said. “I knew what I was going to do. I think my actions made [Vettori] worry, ruffled his feathers if anything. He wanted a reaction out of me, but I know what I’m about to do. I know what I’m about.
“We can be amicable, we can be friends even—not really friends, but we can be really cool. We can be professional. Yeah, we can do the dance, but when the door shuts, when we’re put in the octagon, I change. The game face is on. I’m fighting now.”
Asked if Vettori still has the potential to be a future champion, Whittaker was complimentary. But he made sure to mention one important caveat.
“Definitely not while I’m around,” Whittaker said. “But I think he has something, [and] why he’s won so many of his fights, he has zero quit in him. That will take a guy very, very far. You’ve seen in a lot of his fights where he’s fighting a dude who’s flashier, more skillful, and more technical, but he doesn’t give up, and then his opponent eventually does. It’s a dangerous trait to have, especially someone who’s young enough like he is. To continue learning and to continue growing.
“I’m not going to take anything away from him. I still don’t think he beats me, definitely not now, but I think he’s got a lot of potential still.”