The middleweight contenders face off on the main card of UFC 290 this Saturday in Las Vegas, with a title shot potentially on the line. For Whittaker, he’s aiming for a chance to regain the 185-pound title that he lost to Israel Adesanya four years ago.
A win over Du Plessis could propel Whittaker into a third fight with Adesanya, but he’s not overlooking the former KSW champion, despite being a comfortable betting favorite.
“He’s the most dangerous fight to date,” Whittaker said at UFC 290 media day. “That’s because he’s the one that’s unwritten. Everything in hindsight is easy, but he’s the unknown. I understand the dangers that he presents because not only is he well-rounded and an athlete, physically he’s a big guy, he’s not a small fella. He has nothing to lose, everyone’s already washed him.
“He’s the underdog in this fight and tell me something more dangerous than a man with nothing to lose, everything to gain. And to show respect for that level of danger that he’s brought, I have trained like a mad man for the last 14 weeks, and may the best man win. He’s going to get the best version of myself come the weekend.”
Through five UFC contests, Du Plessis has yet to taste defeat. He’s finished four of his opponents during that stretch, including contenders Derek Brunson and Darren Till. According to Du Plessis and his team, fans have yet to see the best of the South African standout, as he just recently had nasal surgery to address a breathing issue.
Whittaker wasn’t sure what to make of this news initially, but he’s been expecting the best version of Du Plessis since their fight was booked.
“I laughed it off at first,” Whittaker said. “I laughed it off and thought, yeah, whatever. Then I got a stuffy nose and went to training and it was tiring! So maybe there’s some truth to that.
“Regardless, I didn’t train the last 14 weeks for one round, I didn’t train not to expect him to come out like a racehorse. So I’m not too worried. I don’t expect him to gas, that’s just setting myself up for failure.”
Asked to name Du Plessis’ most dangerous trait, Whittaker pointed to Du Plessis’ ability to compete in deep waters and emerge victorious.
“His resilience,” Whittaker said. “His ability to not quit. He’s an athlete, he’s talented, he’s got a very well-rounded skill set, and the fact that he doesn’t quit is dangerous. It’s dangerous. It will beat a lot of guys that do. You’ve seen that time and time again in his fights, he’s been so close to losing and then scrapes victory because he doesn’t quit and then his opponents do.”
“It’s not about breaking him,” Whittaker continued. “It’s about being better than him. I’m going to try and dismantle him. I’m going to try and create holes and opportunities that I can exploit to take the win.”
It sounds as if Whittaker is expecting a tough fight, one that could leave him the worse for wear even if he sees his hand raised on Saturday. Ideally, Whittaker would score an impressive win over Du Plessis, receive some guarantee from the company that he’s next for Adesanya, and be healthy enough to compete at UFC 293 in Sydney in two months.
But Whittaker isn’t circling that date on his calendar yet.
“I’d like to fight in Sydney,” Whittaker said. “It’s one of those things, but my calendar doesn’t go past the weekend right now. Nothing matters past the weekend, I’ve just got to get past this obstacle first.”