“Take your time, don’t rush, do the right things and you’ll get to where you want to go, and that’s kind of the mentality behind my training at the moment.”
That attitude explains why it doesn’t bother Whittaker one bit that his headline bout at UFC Fight Night: Whittaker vs Brunson will be just his second fight in 2016.
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Perhaps it’s because he’s so secure in the belief that he’s destined to reach the top of the UFC’s middleweight division that he’s in no rush to get there.
“I fight to my capability. I took this many fights because this is how many I could take at this time. I’m always juggling injuries and I’ve gotta make sure I spend time with the family and have time to increase my skill set,” Whittaker, ranked No. 7 in the UFC’s middleweight division, said. “I’m in no rush to get fights because I have plenty of time. I have youth on my side, I’m enjoying the learning curve and I’m enjoying the ride. If my body is good next year I’ll take ten fights; I’ve just gotta play it by ear.”
Less fights doesn’t mean there’s an off-season for Whittaker. The married father of one’s dedication to training is such that he seems to have only one vice: PC gaming. While other young athletes might be out partying with their friends, this strategy game devotee’s life of strict routine doesn’t leave time for that.
“(My friends and I) We just get together online because I’m so exhausted after training, and I don’t have a lot of free time. If I’m not training and out doing training things, I’m spending time with my family, it’s hard for me to get out and see my mates, so I really do enjoy that time where I can come to the computer and play games and get my social outlet.”
Whittaker might have taken 2016 slow and steady, but it’s hard to doubt his approach. The New Zealand-born AustralianRafael Natal</a> during his most recent win at UFC 197" align="right" /> fighter appears to have a knack for making the right career moves outside of the UFC’s Octagon.
Since leaving Canada’s Tristar Gym in favor of his first coach martial arts coach in Australia’s Henrry Perez, and moving from the welterweight division to middleweight, Whittaker has looked better in every UFC outing. Now riding a five-fight UFC win streak, Whittaker is fast making the case for a fight against one of the division’s top five competitors.
Whittaker now has the perfect platform to make a statement in his first main event, after a knee injury forced Luke Rockhold out of his headline fight against Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.
“It’s an absolute honor to fight in the main event on an Australian card; I couldn’t ask for much more,” said Whittaker, whose fight against Brunson was originally billed as the co-main event. “The hype definitely is less because I’m a fill-in, it would’ve been a lot more if I was initially thought of, but I jumped at the opportunity. I’ll always jump at an opportunity to headline an Australian card. It’s definitely a milestone.”
The main event slot doesn’t just mean added fanfare, but the possibility of going an extra two rounds with Derek Brunson. But the prospect of a five round fight doesn’t faze Whittaker, who says it wouldn’t have changed the way he prepared for the bout.
“It’s not like I train specifically for 15 minutes; I train my cardio to the best of my ability always, so whether it’s 15 minutes or 25 minutes or 45 minutes, I’m doing the best amount of cardio as I can in the amount of time that I have. Even if I knew about it at an earlier date, nothing would change really.”
In Brunson, Whittaker fights a fellow contender who has looked equally impressive on his path to the No. 8 ranking at 185 pounds.
Brunson has won his last five UFC fights, with four of those victories coming by first round knockout. While his background is in wrestling, striking has quickly become the weapon of choice for the 32-year-old. And the product of Jackson-Wink MMA is undeniably a dangerous puncher, but don’t expect that to change Whittaker’s aggressive approach. While Brunson dispatched highly technical striker Uriah Hall via first round KO in his last fight, Whittaker still believes he has the standup advantage.
“He’s definitely got good wrestling. He’s got a really strong wrestling background, he’s got a lot of power in his hands. If he wants to try and stand up with me I don’t think he’s going to have much luck. But I’m not going to let him take me into his world; I’m going to take him out of his comfort zone and I’m going to keep it standing.”
Whittaker has so far never failed to promise - or deliver - exciting fights. Whittaker’s promise for Saturday is no different.
“I think it’s going to be an absolute war, I think there’s going to be fireworks, but eventually I’m going to break him. I’m going to break him mentally and I’m going to break him physically and I’m looking for the finish.”