When former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold was forced to withdraw from his November 26 (Nov. 27 local time) bout against Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza in Melbourne, Australia on Tuesday, Robert Whittaker didn’t hesitate to step up and add two more rounds to his highly-anticipated bout against Derek Brunson.
“It’s not a problem,” Whittaker said. “I always train for the long fights anyway.”
It’s almost fitting that the new main event for the UFC Fight Night show at Rod Laver Arena pits two more middleweight contenders against each other. And with each sporting five-fight winning streaks, this may be the perfect showcase for the No. 7-ranked Whittaker and the No. 8-ranked Brunson to make their own case for a shot at Michael Bisping’s 185-pound crown.
“I think I’m making a case for my title shot every time I step in that Octagon,” Sydney’s Whittaker said. “That’s my mentality going into these fights. I go in there with the idea to bring excitement, to show that I’m legit about how I do this.”
Both Whittaker and Brunson have certainly delivered on all counts. North Carolina's Brunson is on the fast track to the top of the division with four of the victories on his five-fight streak ending by knockout. Whittaker hasn’t been too shabby either, as his own win streak includes victories over Uriah Hall, Brad Tavares and Rafael Natal. Runs like that are difficult anywhere; to be doing it against the competition they’ve been facing makes it even more impressive.
“Everyone’s in there to win,” Whittaker said. “Two men walk out and one of them has to leave the loser. But I don’t really focus on the win streak or focus on winning or losing. I just focus on trying to perform well and trying to beat my opponent.”
Over the last two months of 2016, several high-profile matchups will take place in the Octagon. Whittaker and Brunson will try to steal the show in Melbourne.
“I think this fight is the set-up for title contention,” Whittaker said. “I think either one of us could be fighting for a title and this is almost like the title fight. It’s two dudes who have the ability to get to the top and this is gonna be very exciting.”