The UFC lined up a series of contenders for Robert Whittaker and has knocked them down one at a time as he bids to return to the top of the middleweight division.
Whittaker put on a clinic Saturday night as he handily defeated Kelvin Gastelum over five rounds to cement his status as the next in line to take on 185-pound UFC king Israel Adesanya – the man who took his middleweight belt from him.
That was the third win in a row for “The Reaper,” who defeated Darren Till and Jared Cannonier before his latest Octagon triumph.
Middleweight rival Marvin Vettori, who also has a bone to pick and a defeat to avenge against Adesanya, has been very vocal in attempting to make that next title shot his.
Whittaker typically lets his fighting do his talking and that may have delayed his chance of a second crack at Adesanya, but on Saturday he stated the only fight that makes sense for him next is “The Last Stylebender” and vice versa.
“That’s kind of how I’ve always taken to the approach of fighting, is that if you beat ’em all, you’re eventually at the top,” Whittaker said after his win over Gastelum. “It’s a simple path, and there is no other fight that makes sense to me other than that tile shot, and that’s the shot that I want and that I’m getting.”
The Australian looked at his very best in his headline fight against Gastelum at UFC on ESPN 22 and drew plenty of plaudits for his performance. One of whom happened to be Adesanya, though it’s unclear how sincere the Kiwi was in his compliments.
Good job my son.
— Israel Adesanya (@stylebender) April 18, 2021
“I’ve played video games my entire life. I am no stranger to trash talk,” Whittaker said in the post-fight press conference. “Honestly, he gets to do it. He won the last fight between us both, so I guess it was coming, right? It’s just him being him, I guess.”
Given the level of performance he put on display and the notoriety of those three aforementioned opponents he got past, Whittaker is firm in his belief that he is next in line for Adesanya over Vettori, who continues to campaign for his rematch with the champion.
“I’ve fought nothing but No. 1 contenders,” Whittaker said. “I’ve already ran the gauntlet. Everybody that had a title shot if they beat me, I beat. That’s it.
“I like Marvin, I guess. He’s alright. But I think there’s fights he still needs to make. I don’t think he’s fought the top three [ranked] dudes, the top five [ranked] dudes, really. But he can wait his turn. Let me have my fight, and then he can fight the winner of that. Relax.”
Adesanya got the better of Whittaker in their first bout at UFC 243 in October, 2019. In a clash of Oceania’s two finest fighters, New Zealand’s Adesanya scored a second-round knockout victory in a packed Docklands Stadium in Melbourne, Australia.