clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

UFC's Whittaker wants to be 'more than the champion': 'I want to be the best'

Top ten UFC Middleweight Robert Whittaker talked to Bloody Elbow to discuss his recently announced match-up with Rafael Natal, as well as his eye-opening performance versus Uriah Hall at UFC 193.

Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Whittaker will enter the UFC octagon for the 9th time when he steps into the cage at UFC 197, which is scheduled for April 23rd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. The Australian/New Zealander is on a four fight win streak which has seen him scoop up a pair of performance bonuses.

Whittaker's next opponent is wily Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Rafael Natal, who himself is on a four fight win streak. Natal is coming off a TKO victory over Kevin Casey on January 30th.

Whittaker, who fights out of Sydney, is thrilled with the match-up. "I'm always looking for tough fights, and I think Natal is a great athlete," Whittaker told Bloody Elbow. "I think he's a great fighter and I'm really looking to put on a show on what could be, potentially, the biggest card of the year."

I need to fight my own style, I can't really change style to suit opponents, I need to be who I am and develop what I have. -Robert Whittaker

Whittaker is yet to face an opponent in his career with BJJ credentials matching that of Natal's. Despite this, Whittaker is not approaching the fight much differently from any other.

"I'm going to go into the fight with Natal to really try and incorporate my game," said Whittaker. "I'm a striker, and I want him to know that I'm a striker.

" I need to fight my own style, I can't really change style  to suit opponents, I need to be who I am and develop what I have."

Whittaker also stated he's not afraid to go to the ground with the Draculino/Renzo Gracie black-belt." I'm more than happy to be tested in that area and show people that I'm not just a one trick pony and that I'm for real."

When asked if he would have preferred a higher ranked opponent (Natal is currently listed 12th), Whittaker wasn't fussed. "It honestly doesn't bother me," said Whittaker. " I've never held rankings in that regard, I've never really given the rankings any thought when it comes to when I take a fight or why I take a fight.

"On the day of the fight, they're gonna line me up with people higher than me, lower than me, I intend to beat them all regardless."

Whittaker is considered, by most, as favourite to win the fight with Natal. Despite it being positive, Whittaker tries to ignore the public's predictions. "I just keep it right out of my head," he said. "[Natal's] a dangerous fighter, he's got the skill set to beat me, but it's my job to not let that happen."

Whittaker, who hopes to finish Natal, is also excited to be fighting on such an occasion as UFC 197 is shaping up to be. The Aussie fighter stated it was a "huge honour" and a "privilege"  to be a part of an event that featured stars such as Demetrious Johnson and the returning Jon Jones.

The last time Whittaker fought was also a big occasion. His most impressive performance to date came on the main card of UFC 193, which featured Holly Holm's dethroning of Ronda Rousey in the main event.

Whittaker looks back on 193 with fond memories and believes the event may have changed the course for MMA in Australia. "I think that card was huge for Australia," said Whittaker, who hopes the national attention given to the event might create greater opportunities for fighters on various levels in Australia.

As a result of the event, Whittaker's star has also risen in the country - slightly. Whittaker admitted he does get recognized a little bit more, but it's still not that often.

Whittaker's dominant showing over the mercurial Uriah Hall was thought, by many, to be worthy of attention. However, Whittaker himself looks back on the fight with ambivalence.

"First thing I thought was it was a bit scrappy," said Whittaker.  "I think every fighter has mixed feelings about their fights. Overall I definitely think there were lots of things I did well, lots of things I did wrong, and yeah, we just got to hone in the skill-set to make everything better."

Of all the skills displayed that night, Whittaker's aggression was especially praised. For Whittaker, this mindset comes naturally. "That's just a personality trait really," revealed Whittaker casually. "I think that's part of how I fight, and who I am."

The Hall victory was Whittaker's third win at middleweight, having moved up from welterweight in 2014. The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes winner calls the transition a "game-changing decision". At middleweight Whittaker cuts around seven pounds the day of weigh-ins. When competing at 170lbs, he was forced to lose twice that amount. At welterweight Whittaker also employed an IV to rehydrate, on occasion.

Feeling like his "body is as it should be", Whittaker is excited to be competing in a division stacked with legends of the sport, such as Anderson Silva, Vitor Belfort, and Dan Henderson.

They're just humans, I just go in with that mentality and just take it to them. -Robert Whittaker

The 25-year-old fighter admitted it was, "Pretty unreal at first", seeing those names around his in the rankings. However, Whittaker is not afraid to face any of them.

"At the end of the day, they're just people I gotta beat," said Whittaker. "They're just humans, I just go in with that mentality and just take it to them."

Whittaker is the only middleweight in the top 15 who is under 30-years-old. When asked to ruminate on the fact that he is hitting his athletic prime as his competition was declining, Whittaker did not want to get too far ahead of himself.

"I take one fight at a time mate, the biggest challenge is the next one and that's kinda how I take it."

Despite not looking too far into the future, Whittaker does admit that becoming the first Australian or Kiwi to hoist a UFC belt is an alluring prospect

"It would mean the world to me, " said the Auckland-born fighter. However, Whittaker revealed his desires go beyond gold and leather.

"You know, if I get that far, I wanna be more than the champion, I want to be the best, and to be the best I have to beat everybody. That's my mentality in fighting and that's my mentality going forwards, just to beat everybody."

You can follow Robert Whittaker on twitter @RJWhittaker1990

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Bloody Elbow Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your MMA and UFC news from Bloody Elbow