"Thank god its not a jiu-jitsu match" - Robert Whittaker
In 10 UFC fights, our #MaoriUFC gun Robert Whittaker has yet to notch a win via submission and in his current six-fight win streak, Whittaker has three wins via KO/TKO and three via decision. Whittaker knows exactly what works for him and that doesn't include engaging Jacarae Souza in any sort of grappling, largely because three of Souza's last four wins have come via submission.
Whittaker and Souza will do battle in Kansas City on Sunday (NZT) on the UFC Fight night card headlined by Demetrious Johnson vs Wilson Reis. This marks a major step forward for Whittaker after he dispatched Derek Brunson in his last outing, absorbing a predicted onslaught from Brunson and pouncing as soon as Brunson got a bit too eager with his striking. You can consider this Whittaker at his very best as the first round TKO not only showcased his immense power via his hands, it also showed his cerebral side.
Team Whittaker knew Brunson would come out hard and that this would present opportunities, although they didn't expect Brunson to be that aggressive. The clarity of the plan allowed Whittaker patience to pick his shot/s and unleash his heavy-hands that are quickly earning a reputation. Brunson and Whittaker are very similar in that regard as they both rely on their striking, Whittaker was more patient, more calculated, hence he won in front of his home fans.
That clarity is what stands out for Whittaker and there's a similar level of clarity in Whittaker's approach to this crucial fight against Souza. Speaking to media, Whittaker outlined how there would be no intention to take on Souza's jiu-jitsu strength and that he would once again rely on those hands to counter Souza. Of course that means that we are going to see Whittaker's jiu-jitsu defence come under close examination; for Whittaker to win this fight and make further moves towards a middleweight title fight, he must showcase the required level of defence.
With the power that Whittaker has, he will do damage if he's able to land a - or multiple - clean shot on Souza. Souza will however know that Whittaker is unlikely to try take him down and Souza certainly won't make it easy for Whittaker to get off his shots. That stylistic match up is what makes this fight so interesting, there's also the wider context of the middleweight division that adds a funky dose intrigue to this bout.
Michael Bisping is the current champion after beating Luke Rockhold (#2) and defending the belt against Dan Henderson. Bisping is currently engaged in a possible fight against George St. Pierre, a fight that will see GSP return to the UFC and boost the bank accounts of everyone involved. Yoel Romero (#1) is probably the most-deserving of the title shot though and the backdrop to a possible Bisping vs GSP fight is the ongoing back and forth between Bisping and Romero.
Souza (#3) is ranked well ahead of Whittaker (#6) so if Whittaker wins, he'll put himself knee-deep in a group of fighters who will have to wait and see how the Bisping/GSP/Romero situation pans out. Chris Weidman (#5) lost to Gegard Mousasi (#4) in weird circumstances last weekend, further complicating matters while Anderson Silva (#7) is still lurking as well.
That basically means that Whittaker needs a big win to cut through the clutter and while Souza is a massive step up, it's necessary for Whittaker at this stage of his career. Whittaker has shown enough so far that a loss wouldn't dent his standing in the middleweight division, especially against Souza who is on the cusp of a title shot. A win sets Whittaker up nicely to deal with the aftermath of the shenanigans at the top of the division and as it's likely to come via KO/TKO, everyone will be put on notice of the Middlemore ninja.
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