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MELBOURNE, Australia – Robert Whittaker saw exactly what Kelvin Gastelum was able to do to Israel Adesanya earlier this year, and he admits there were some lessons to take from that epic UFC 236 encounter.
“If Gastelum can do that much work, I can,” Whittaker told MMA Junkie. “I like to think I’ve got a better skillset than Gastelum. I think I have a better skillset than Izzy. Let’s just see how it goes.”
UFC middleweight champ Whittaker (20-4 MMA, 11-2 UFC) and current interim titleholder Adesanya (17-0 MMA, 6-0 UFC) meet in the main event of UFC 243, which takes place Saturday (Sunday locally) at Marvel Stadium. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN2 and UFC Fight Pass/ESPN+.
At Friday’s media day at Marvel Stadium, Whittaker said he’s fulfilling a dream at UFC 243, looking to defend his belt on home soil in front of a supportive crowd expected to exceed some 50,000 spectators.
“This fight in this atmosphere in this arena with these numbers, one, I’m making history,” Whittaker said. “Two, this is a huge milestone for me. This is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to defend the belt here in Australia, and I’m doing that.”
Of course, he certainly hasn’t been given an easy opponent for the occasion. The undefeated Adesanya has made a rapid rise up the ranks during his short octagon tenure, racking up six consecutive wins and claiming an interim belt.
But while “The Last Stylebender” is certainly being portrayed as one of the UFC’s newest stars, Whittaker is actually 17 months younger and is happy to remind fans that he’s certainly not on any kind of decline.
“I think (Adesanya) is super deadly,” Whittaker said. “I think he’s a very talented and great fighter, but hell, I’m still up-and-coming, you know? I’m not going anywhere, anytime soon.
“Honestly, I am more excited for how I come out of this fight, for the work that I’ll put in after this fight to the fighter that I’m going to become from this fight, because every year, I’m getting better. Every year, I have harder fights, and I’ve got a lot of years left in me.”
Still, Adesanya certainly does strike the role of “man on the rise.” He welcomes the spotlight and is happy to discuss massive future opportunities, like facing light heavyweight champion Jon Jones at the 70,000-seat Allegiant Stadium that is currently under construction in Las Vegas.
Whittaker won’t let himself entertain such fantasies, at least not publicly, preferring instead to focus on the task at hand.
“Obviously, I’m not looking past Israel,” Whittaker said. “He’s a very hard opponent, and honestly, it’s going to be a very hard fight, and I know this. I’ve prepared for this. But, the only sure thing that I know after this fight is that Monday I’m going to go home and see my kids. That’s it.”
Of course, first up is the matter of a certain 25-minute fistfight.
Adesanya did take a licking against Gastelum, but the gifted striker also proved his heart by digging deep, battling through adversity and claiming the final round of the April clash to take home a decision win. Whittaker knows what he’s up against. He’s just not sure Adesanya can say the same.
“I don’t think he’s going to be able to withstand the heat that I bring – and I’m not looking to finish him; I’m looking to drag this into a five-round war. I’m going to drag him into the trenches.
“I’m going to do what Gastelum did, but better. Let’s see if he wants to leave early.”
To hear more from Whittaker, check out the video above.
News | MMA Junkie