Robert Whittaker knows a win over Derek Brunson this weekend in the main event of UFC Fight Night 101 in Melbourne, Australia will not only earn him the respect of MMA community but also rocket him to the upper echelon of the middleweight division.
When an injury to Luke Rockhold forced the UFC to scrap the original main event against Jacare Souza, they called on Whittaker and Brunson to step up and fill that headline slot. With the two of them firmly within the top 10 in the official UFC 185lb rankings, the victor will break into a jostling pack at the top.
And the Aussie is relishing the home field advantage. “I’ve been flying under the radar a bit, and it’s about time I get the respect I deserve,” Whittaker said. “When I fist entered the UFC scene, I said, ‘You know what? One day I want to be the last fight, I want to be headliner’ and here I am.
“To be able to do that in my home country? Unreal. It’s still a headliner, and I still stepped up. It was me they called to step up in that position, and I was stoked… It is what it is, and I’m still happy and blessed for the opportunity.”
Whittaker and Brunson may not be the biggest draws in a red-hot 185lb division packed full of resurgent veterans, topped of course by champion Michael Bisping, but they are on their way up and Whittaker says this one may be for the hardcores.
“The MMA fans out there know about this fight, and they love this fight because it’s going to be a killer fight,” Whittaker told MMA Junkie. “For your casuals – you know, your tourists – they don’t really know.
“If you’re not the champion or the top contender or have a big mouth, then you fly under the radar a little bit. But it’s going to be a good fight. It’s going to be a killer fight. It’s definitely one to watch.”
Whittaker is predicting an explosive battle with Brunson and is confident this will become his sixth straight win since moving up to middleweight. “He’s going to come out aggressive, he’s going to try and take my head off, but I’m going to be too fast,” Whittaker added. “I’m going to pick him apart.
“My striking is crisp, and it’s unorthodox. It’s hard to read. You can practice all you want against someone, but my hands come from everywhere, and I hit hard. People are going to need to realize I do hit hard. I don’t think he’s going to like being hit, and I think he’s going to quit.”