Former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker is making sure he keeps his eye on the ball ahead of his upcoming bout with Dricus du Plessis at UFC 290.

The Australian and the South African are booked to face off during UFC International Fight Week in a middleweight clash that many believe will determine the identity of the next man to face champion Israel Adesanya, and with Whittaker now firmly established as a perennial top three contender in the division, the Aussie is making sure he doesn’t underestimate his opponent ahead of their July matchup.

“I think because he’s not super flashy, because he doesn’t do crazy things and doesn’t really do things that stand out amazingly, people overlook him,” he told Submission Radio.

“They underestimate his capabilities. But he won’t find that in me. I understand the threat he brings to the fight, and I’m treating it with all due respect.”

Du Plessis has won plenty of fans with his crowd-pleasing, come-forward fighting style, but that same approach has also been criticized as being too gung-ho, too open to counters, and not tight enough to take “Stillknocks” to the very top of the UFC middleweight division.

However, du Plessis has gone unbeaten in the Octagon since arriving in the UFC in 2020, with only one of his seven UFC wins coming on the scorecards. After the matchup between Whittaker and du Plessis was booked, the South African admitted it might not have been the best idea, but he stated his intention to earn his shot at the title.

“A lot of people are saying it’s not a smart move to fight Whittaker. One hundred percent. I agree with that,” he told Submission Radio earlier this year.

“I agree it’s not the smart move, but I’m not here to be smart. Otherwise, I would’ve stayed in school, finished my studies, and went to work at a bank (and) wear a suit every day. But that’s not the life I chose. I chose to be a warrior, I chose to be an entertainer.

“At the end of the day I’m a fighter. That’s what I do, I fight. I don’t want to get that title shot based on some hype created by I don’t know what – some guy who has the title, who’s behaving like a little child and overreacting, and now the fight is happening because of hype. I want to earn my title shot.”

That stance sits well with Whittaker, who admitted that he respected his opponent’s view.

“Definitely. And that’s one of the reasons why I have to respect the threat that he brings, because he’s looking for hard fights,” he said.

“He doesn’t want the easy road. And you’ve got to respect that.”

That respect has carried into his fight camp, where Whittaker has been leaving no stone unturned in his preparations as he prepares his body and mind for what could turn into a real back-and-forth war on July 8.

“The theme’s been hard work, honestly,” he explained.

“They are all hard work, obviously, but this one, we’ve really doubled down on just grinding it through, being resilient, having the best cardio we can have, and really mixing up my skillset.

“I think I’m better than him. I believe I’m better than him. I think the fight will be dogged. It will be a hard fight, but I’m just better than him, and I know this.”

On paper, it looks like it could be a drawn-out slugfest of a matchup, with both men showing they’re more than capable of going into the trenches and coming out victorious. That’s certainly the type of fight Whittaker is expecting, and he is also expecting to emerge with his hand raised.

“It’s gonna be a dog fight, but I’m looking to put him away,” he said.

“I wanna put him away. Not that I haven’t tried with everybody else, but I want to get a finish.”