Hardcore UFC fans will know just how ruthless Robert Whittaker is and what this interim middleweight title fight against Yoel Romero means, or perhaps how ruthless Romero is himself. For those of you who are just curious about this #KiwiUFC, the following should help set the scene as well as offering more reason to get amp'd up for fight fans.
Whittaker and Romero are competing for the interim belt, while Michael Bisping is out injured. Bisping is the legit champ but can't fight right now, so Whittaker and Romero will fight for the interim belt which should lead them into a fight against Bisping to see who the real champ is.
Whether or not Bisping slots straight back into a title defence against either Whittaker or Romero isn't a certainty, he'll have to prove himself in defending his belt against one of these two at some stage though.
So having Bisping asking Whittaker some prickly questions makes for a rather entertaining watch:
Entertaining in the sense that Whittaker oozes everything we (and Australia) love about our fighters. Bisping even comments that Whittaker's humility is boring and won't help sell a possible fight against Bisping, we know that's simply how folk in our part of the world operate. Bisping prods, he tries to bait Whittaker into making some rash comments but Whittaker is pure class, not intimidated, nor does Whittaker look to engage Bisping in any sort of back and forth.
When Bisping appears to make some shit up about what Whittaker said (have to assume the cuzzie Whittaker's telling the truth), Whittaker simply responds with a plain 'I didn't say that'.
The very first question sums Whittaker up best though and it reinforces why I have made such an effort to write about Whittaker as he's asked about representing both Australia and Aotearoa. This is the first example of Bisping looking to spark some niggle, yet Whittaker pushes the line that he's doing this for Australia and Aotearoa, which is best represented by his tattoos. Whittaker is like many other Maori for example (or pakeha, or polynesians) who have roots in Aotearoa but grew up in Australia and genuinely feel a connection to both countries, this is only going to increase as we all know many people in this situation. As Whittaker wants to rep both nations, we're on the bus.
In this interview, Whittaker is humble, he doesn't participate in Bisping's manufactured crap, he's respectful of Bisping and Romero while still showing a zoned in focus to smoke both of them. Just as Steven Adams is everything I want in a kiwi NBA athlete, Whittaker's exactly what I want in my favourite UFC fighter.
We can't take too much away from open workouts; they are a performance. What I did find interesting was the difference between the open workouts and how those vivid differences paint the picture of this fight.
Whittaker is a striker and in his open workout, he goes through striking patterns which in itself doesn't really mean a whole lot. The power in those strikes though with little effort behind them and then the variety of strikes on display is what you need to know about Whittaker. There's punches, elbows, knees and kicks thrown from all sorts of angles, in all sorts of different motions and this is what has made Whittaker such a menace as dominated fights to get to this point.
This showcases Whittaker's pure mixed-martial-arts style. The range of kicks comes from his karate background and with immense power in his hands, Whittaker is comfortable up close or out of his opponent's range. Whittaker can swiftly move in, sneak a few punches and elbows at Romero and then drop back out of range. It's hard to see what is landing when Whittaker does this but that's the beauty as his precision, power and speed allow him to fight in a slick skirmish fashion.
To finish his open workout, Whittaker does some basic footwork stuff that doesn't appear to mean a whole lot. Most UFC fighters can move fast and Whittaker's not unique in that regard, although the in-out nature of his footwork, offered by very short, sharp steps not only allows him to move in and out swiftly on offence, it's going to help Whittaker stay well away from Romero's greatest asset; wrestling.
Small steps will help Whittaker evade Romero as best as he can, it also limits the opportunities for Romero to pounce with a single-leg takedown as Whittaker won't leave his lead leg out ready to be chomped at. Whittaker has shown in previous fights that his takedown defence is on par with his striking and while I don't doubt that Whittaker will land and do damage with those strikes against Romero, his takedown defence will be severely tested.
Many folk have Whittaker as the favourite based largely on the fact that Romero is 40-years-old. This is Whittaker's biggest challenge of his career and although he's got all the tools for victory, he's coming up against an absolute monster:
Watch that again.
You already know that this fight is going to be crazy and it's awesome that Whittaker's interim-champ opportunity is against Romero as Romero has the division on edge. This is a huge fight just for the fact that our cuzzie is fighting for an interim belt, let alone that he's fighting against such a capable fighter in Romero who entertains with substance.
Romero put on a show in his open workout. A performance displaying peak athleticism and remember that he's 40yrs (!). That's just who Romero is and don't tell me you weren't amazed watching his workout.
Whittaker went about his business and pounded his coach's pads with lightning strikes. A flurry of strikes here, move out, and a flurry of strikes there. Blink and you'll miss 'em, see the high kick coming and get smoked by his left hook.
You only get to the top by beating the best and Whittaker's coming off a win over Jacare Souza, now for a dude who is as a supreme being as you'll ever see. That's our cuzzie, taking on the most ruthless fighters in the division.
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