UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker will defend his belt against Israel Adesanya in Melbourne on Sunday and while the simple view is to label this as Australia vs Aotearoa, Whittaker's connection to Aotearoa can't be under-stated. Born in Aotearoa to a maori mother (Samoan lineage also), Whittaker has consistently highlighted his maori heritage and having done a bunch of work for troubled youth in Australia, Whittaker has also consistently mentioned his desire to do such work in Aotearoa.
Whittaker's rise has coincided with him re-connecting to his whanau in Aotearoa, which is a beautiful thing and for many, Whittaker represents a growing group of folks who have equal connection to Australia and Aotearoa. Because Adesanya is the biggest, best fighter out of Aotearoa right now, the idea that this bout is Australia vs Aotearoa is understandable. The fabulous note for kiwis to enjoy is that this event hits a nek level when viewed as a couple #KiwiUFC fighters putting on a show at the highest level.
Interestingly, Whittaker has not fought since June 2018 and his two fights vs Yoel Romero (July 2017, June 2018) are his last two fights. Through illness and injury, Whittaker missed out on a fair amount of action inside the octago and for context; Adesanya's UFC journey started in February 2018 and he has had six fights since.
Six fights and a wave of momentum vs one fight and a lot of time off. That's part of the funk around this fight as Whittaker has done the complete opposite to Adesanya over the past 12-18 months and we will be treated to a minor experiment as to what type of preparation seems more effective for these two specific fighters. I'd suggest that Whittaker's skills would have improved significantly since the last time we saw him fight given his time invested in training.
Here's a bunch of Whittaker stuff for you to enjoy...
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Peace and love 27.