Former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker has always been up front and honest about matters throughout his UFC career, and he admitted that he’s content with how the UFC’s middleweight title picture is starting to play out.
Israel Adesanya’s shock defeat to Sean Strickland threw the 185 pound division up in the air after the American stepped in for an injured Dricus Du Plessis and outstruck “The Last Stylebender” to claim a decision win and become the undisputed champion.
With Adesanya stating his intention to take some time away from the sport to recharge his batteries, the title picture was left wide open, and a middleweight bout between Khamzat Chimaev and former welterweight champion Kamaru Usman at UFC 294 was rumored to be a title eliminator matchup.
But now any lingering doubts about what’s next have been cleared up, with UFC president Dana White announcing that Strickland will defend his middleweight title against Du Plessis in Toronto, Canada at UFC 297 in January.
It means there’s some clarity at the top of the division, and former champ Whittaker says the title matchup makes sense.
“It kind of cleared a lot of things up, because the division is in a really crazy spot,” he told Submission Radio.
“There’s so many fighters that are already busy or that are inactive or that are just sitting on sidelines. And with the win/losses that we’ve had in the top five, it’s just shuffled everything up. And then you have Chimaev and Usman coming in and fighting for a title shot, allegedly, just shaking everything up.
“But, to hear Dricus is getting the title shot with Sean, I think it’s fair. Because he wasn’t in a lot of the talks for the next title shot with Sean. And where did it leave him? Where did that leave him? And, you know, I think props to him. He did beat me, and I think that earns something.
“I guess that’s the moral of the story. The division, especially top five, and the stakes that we play at, is just rife with opportunity. And Sean is a perfect example of being ready and in the right place at the right time, and obviously having the skills to back it up.”
Despite being able to outpoint Adesanya for the title, Strickland isn’t Whittaker’s pick for the matchup with Du Plessis, however, with the Aussie leaning towards the South African in the head-to-head matchup.
“Off the cuff I want to say Dricus, just because he did beat me, and then that gives me a path also just to get it back off him sort of thing,” he admitted.
“But also, I think both guys love making it a dogfight, right? And I just, I don’t know. What can I say? How can I doubt Dricus when he beat me last time?”
Whittaker is clearly still eyeing a return to the top of the division, and said that a matchup with Usman or Chimaev would make sense for his next outing. And he explained why he felt a matchup with former 170-pound king Usman made more sense, even though “The Nigerian Nightmare” lost out to Chimaev last time out.
“Definitely the Usman fight interests me, because I just think we’re both guys at the top of the food chain, and I want to give him a proper welcome to the middleweight division, right?” he said.
“I just, I like that fight. He’s one of the best welterweights to do it, and I think fighting fights of that caliber just make me excited. It makes me excited, and it’s a face I haven’t fought before. It’s exciting, It’s different.
“And the goal to get to the gold, to get back to that title shot, I don’t think it’s as complicated as many people make it out to be. I think I just need to win several fights in a row. Like, just win fights and that’s kind of where you end up regardless, right? And I think my biggest concern.
“My biggest primary objective right now is to make sure that my next fight is on a big card with a big name. I want a fight – and it’s not about the prize fights or the cash, no. I want a good fight, that’s filled with honor, that people will want to tune in to, that’ll be a hard fight and honorable fight, and we get it done and that pushes me closer to my objective, which is fighting for that title.
“So does Khamzat. It’s about more about fitting timelines and moving towards that goal. Getting a title fight isn’t tricky. It’s just about winning fights. If you’re winning fights consecutively, you’re going to get a title shot sooner or later. And fighting big names obviously helps that.”