Robert Whittaker feels as if there’s a completely different tone before this weekend’s UFC Middleweight Championship rematch with Israel Adesanya.
The lead-up to the first fight in October 2019 shaped an intense rivalry between the two fighters as media and fans ignited talk of an Australia vs. New Zealand rivalry. But now, because the pair are set to fight in Houston, Texas, this weekend at UFC 271, it has resulted in a different feeling for Whittaker, at least.
Whittaker and Adesanya will battle again in the UFC 271 main event this Saturday night. Fight fans can order the PPV on ESPN+ here to watch the title fight and the entire main card live.
“This one has a completely different tone,” Whittaker said to Submission Radio. “I feel like there’s an underlying sense of mutual respect. We’re both the two of the best in the game. He’s the champion and I’m number one, and we’ve ran through everybody else, and I think there’s a certain level of mutual respect that comes from that.
“And I think the fact that the New Zealand/Australia rivalry isn’t so much getting thrown in everybody’s faces here, or understanding that this is Australian and New Zealand taking over the world sort of thing. And in saying that, we’re not mates. Far from it. We’re not mates. But I just don’t think because this time the media, where we’re fighting in Houston, and just the way the media is not angling that rivalry and that stuff, the fight isn’t personal.”
The different location for this fight at UFC 271 is one that may provide to be beneficial for the former champion as he has since admitted that Adesanya did get in his head before his title defense. With the fight now in Houston, Whittaker believes he’s now in a much better place before he fights Adesanya for the second time.
“I feel like for a lot of different reasons, the fight just got led into that personal sort of space, that first fight,” Whittaker said. “And because of it, it sucked me in, if you would. Especially, because like I said, you guys mentioned it earlier on, is that like my head wasn’t in the right place. So not having my head in the right place, and then all the media’s effects on it, and then making it personal on top of that, it just swept me away into like a little bit of a Whirlpool. And then leaving the game and then working out my why’s and wants and who I am and having confidence now in who I am, it’s a much better place.”
Whittaker recognizes that it’s more than just a renewed mindset that will be what could help lead him to victory at UFC 271. The objective this Saturday night will be to utilize his entire skillset to make the champion feel uncomfortable — that includes testing Adesanya’s takedown defense.
“I could visualize the fight, I go out there and feel out the waters and just honestly, just perform. I want to utilize my entire skillset. I wanna make him feel uncomfortable. I want him to get confused because of how many weapons I’m throwing at him. But of all of that, if I could just get in there and perform, and know that I did my best and I managed to display my best, then I’ll leave a happy man.”
“I think utilizing my full skillset is the best version of me. I think that’s what will make me the best Robert Whittaker, and that’s what I’m trying to achieve. The finish is followed. The finishes follow performance. If I’m performing, well, that’ll come.”
You can order the UFC 271 PPV on ESPN+ here to watch Adesanya vs. Whittaker 2 and the entire fight card live this Saturday, January 12 in the United States.
Formerly the lead MMA Editor at RealSport.