Whittaker (20-4 MMA, 11-2 UFC), the UFC middleweight champion, said he was closely watching Saturday’s interim 185-pound title bout that saw Adesanya (17-0 MMA, 6-0 UFC) defeat Kelvin Gastelum (15-4 MMA, 10-4 UFC) by unanimous decision to set up a title unification matchup.
The fight will be a big one for the weight class, particularly because Adesanya hasn’t been hesitant to throw verbal jabs in Whittaker’s direction at nearly every turn. Whittaker said the whole thing stems from an interview where he said Adesanya “wasn’t as good as he thinks he is” and that his UFC 234 victory over Anderson Silva wasn’t particularly impressive.
Whittaker said the performance and win over Gastelum was a step up, but it also gave him great confidence that he can take away Adesanya’s undefeated record.
“I think this fight forced him to draw a little bit more out of the tank, a little bit more will power, a little bit more heart,” Whittaker told “Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show” on ESPN. “You can see in the fight his ups and downs. A little bit more trials, a little bit more obstacles he had to get over. The adversity he had to get through to make sure he lasted to the end of the fight. I thought it was an amazing fight from both guys.
“If you watch the fight you can see the holes that were there from every fight before, they just got exposed bigger. There were holes and there were a lot of things Gastelum exploited, and there were a lot of things Gastelum could’ve exploited but couldn’t because of his makeup, because of his striking style, because of his height, his reach. Gastelum was getting in. Gastelum was landing his left. I’ll get in, I’ll land my right. I’m much faster than Gastelum, I’m a better striker. Israel should be very worried. I’m a very hard fight.”
Although there appeared to be some animosity even prior to UFC 236, Whittaker said he didn’t have a rooting interest in the fight between Adesanya and Gastelum. He would’ve been happy to take on whichever man came out of the pay-per-view headliner, which took place at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
Adesanya has said he believes Whittaker’s relatively inactive fight schedule stemming from injuries and fight withdrawals should’ve resulted in being stripped of the middleweight title. He called himself the “real” champion after UFC 236, and Whittaker thinks that’s because Adesanya can’t handle that he has to share the “spotlight.”
“He had a great win on the weekend and it seems like every time someone asks him a question or they put the spotlight on him for two seconds, he can’t help but mention my name; it’s a little concerning to be honest,” Whittaker said. “He can’t stand the fact people like me more than him. And even if they don’t, he can’t stand the fact people are talking about me in the same sentence as him. He can’t do it. He wants all the spotlight. He wants all the attention, and he can have it. But I find it funny that it gets to him. Just relax, mate. Great fight. You got yourself a shiny belt. We can fight for my one later.
“I’ve got to say, I don’t understand why this guy is riled up about what I said. The only critical thing I’ve ever said about him is I don’t think he’s as good as he thinks he is. You take that how you want, but he makes it seem like I’m talking behind his back all the time. That’s just how I feel, sorry. Sorry it gets you so upset. He just needs to relax.”
When Adesanya discusses Whittaker, two common talking points seem to come up. Those are the champion’s three fights over the past 24 months, and the fact that he represents Australia despite being born in New Zealand.
Whittaker appeared somewhat irked by the latter.
“I’m the only thing in his head,” Whittaker said. “Surely he could be using his spotlight for other purposes. For instance, he’s calling me like a fake New Zealander, a fake Australian. Like, wow. They’re pretty heavy comments. When he could be using his spotlight to further other purposes. Like myself, when the spotlight is put onto me I get to plug my education programs. I’m bringing education programs to New Zealand next year, a lot of people don’t know this. This is one of one of the other things I’m working on right now with my team. The only thing Israel can talk about is me. I’m flattered to be honest.
“If I’m a fake New Zealander, then what is he? It’s just one of those things. And as for every time I see him, I have no beef with him at all. If he wants me to be critical every time I see him then we can sit down and we can have coffee and we can go over every fault I see in his game. I’ll do that if you want too. Otherwise I’ll just say, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ And keep my mouth shut. Any differences we have, for whatever reason he’s made them personal, we’ll sort it out in the octagon sooner or later.”
After undergoing a serious intestinal surgery following his last-minute withdrawal from a February title defense with Gastelum, Whittaker said he is feeling and training at 100 percent. He is eager to fight, but said he knows Adesanya will need some time to “lick his wounds” after going through the ringer to win at UFC 236.
From all indications, though, the UFC is looking to set up a late summer or early fall title unifier in Australia. UFC President Dana White said after UFC 236 that the company is searching for a stadium to host the event, and Whittaker has the “utmost confidence” the fight with Adesanya could surpass the UFC attendance record of 56,214 set at “UFC 193: Rousey vs. Holm” in Melbourne.
Whittaker is hopeful the promotion can find a suitable location in Sydney, where he currently resides. However, once he steps in the octagon with Adesanya, the location, the number of people watch and the talk all mean nothing. It will come down to who is the better fighter, and Whittaker has a strong belief that’s him.
“He doesn’t like getting hit and he’s very, very hittable,” Whittaker said. “I hit hard. If he can weather the storm and take my shots and survive five rounds like he did with Gastelum, then congratulations to him, he’ll get the win. But I don’t think he’s going to. I’m a better fighter than Gastelum. I hit harder, I’m faster and I come with a new level of intensity he’s not used to.
“None of (the talk is) going to matter. We’re going to see each other in the octagon and go leather for leather. And if he beats me, he beats me. Good on him. He would’ve earned his place, but I’m going to do everything in my power to make it not happen.”
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Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie
Read the full article here: Robert Whittaker: Israel Adesanya should be 'very worried' after being 'exploited' at UFC 236