One of the things that separate professional fighters from civilians is that the idea of being locked in an Octagon with another athlete trained to defeat you isn’t cause for concern, but the payoff for the two months of an arduous training camp.
“I’m gonna enjoy it,” Rob Whiteford said of his UFC FIGHT PASS featured bout against Lucas Martins this Sunday. “He’s not gonna hold me, he’s not gonna put me against the cage.”
No, as a member of the famed Chute Boxe team in Brazil, Martins’ intention on fight night is not to grapple, but to throw all eight limbs at an opponent, with the idea being to end the bout as soon as possible. Scotland’s Whiteford, who has ended seven of his 12 wins by knockout, can relate to that game plan, and it’s why this featherweight bout is one of the most highly-anticipated on the Zagreb Fight Night card. Simply put, fists will fly, and that’s just what Whiteford wants after a disappointing three-round decision loss to Darren Elkins last October.
The defeat, Whiteford’s second in four UFC starts, came after the emotional high of a knockout win over Paul Redmond that took place in his native Scotland three months earlier. And while he was able to crack Elkins a few times over the course of 15 minutes, it was the wrestling attack of the American that made it a rough night for “The Hammer.”
“Even when you watch Elkins, you think - not that it’s an easy fight - but he’s beatable,” Whiteford said. “And then when you get in there with him, you can hit him too easy as well, so you think one of these is gonna connect and he’s gonna go to sleep. And you get a false sense of security, and before you know it, he’s on a single leg, he’s on a double, he’s got you against the cage, and he’s just grindin’ ya.”
And after three rounds of that, fighters run out of time and Elkins secures another victory. Whiteford has no excuses for the loss, and it’s obvious that he does have a healthy respect for “The Damage.”
“He’s definitely one of the toughest guys I fought, because I hit him with some big shots, and most of the guys tend to go down with shots like that,” Whiteford said. “I had him wobbled and rocked a few times, but he recovered quick and then you’re back wrestling with him again. So he takes a good shot, he makes the fight ugly and he wins grinding people out and he’s made a career of it.”
And while there may be better fighters at 145 pounds than Elkins, there are few who are tougher.
“When I finished the fight, I couldn’t stop thinking to myself ‘how did he take some of the shots I hit him with?’ There’s not gonna be much nastier fights than fighting Elkins.”
That was six months ago. Now, Whiteford’s focus isn’t on the past, but on Sunday night and getting that winning feeling again. At 32, he may be hitting his physical prime, and that’s good news for someone who looks at this not as his job, but his calling in life.
“Fighting is something you’re born with, not taught,” he said. “You never lose it.”
Thankfully, Whiteford can channel his fighting into something positive, a reality that may not have been the case given a less than Hallmark card childhood.
“Everybody knows that I had a pretty tough upbringing,” he said. “I was in a children’s home from the age of six years old. I was around violence, I was around bullies, I was away from home. That shaped me into the man I am today. In the fight game, it seems that comfortable place for me. I’m at my most comfortable when I’m working hard and punching people in the face and getting punched back in the face.”
He laughs before continuing, knowing that such a notion couldn’t be more foreign to most.
“This game’s not for everybody.”
It is for Rob Whiteford though, and even if he has to be away from home for months at a time as he trains with American Top Team in Florida, he’ll do it, because this is who he is.
“When I make that walk to the Octagon, I feel dangerous,” he said. “This is a fight and I’m able to fight on the drop of a coin.”
Just like Lucas Martins. But Whiteford wants to point out that on Sunday, only “The Hammer” will leave with his hand raised.
“He (Martins) is in for a tough night, let’s put it that way.”