This Saturday, Robert Whittaker has to once again prove himself. Not only is he battling the undefeated rising star Israel Adesanya, but he is again battling fans expectations and doubts. Whittaker is no stranger to this -years before he started his pro career, he was faced with the same circumstances, or rather, had been facing these circumstances daily. Bouts of depression often kept Whittaker inside, despite the prospects of being a professional athlete on the horizon. At 16, rather than head to the gym, he stayed indoors. Whittaker, known much more for his fighting skills than his personality, has recently opened up about his struggles with depression. An unexpected turn for a fighter who would rather let his skills inside the cage speak for him. Now, as the middleweight champion, Whittaker is still a fighter who is doubted by many- he is the epitome of underrated. A common insult is that Whittaker has never defended his belt, despite that being Yoel Romero’s fault when they rematched last summer and Romero failed to make championship weight. Fortunately, Whittaker gets to rectify this soon in his fight against Adesanya this Saturday. As we know however, Robert Whittaker is battling more than Israel Adesanya.
Robert Whittaker: More than a Fight
In a sport known for cartoon-like bravado and egomaniacs with bad chest tattoos, Whittaker’s earnestness is refreshing. To hear Whittaker, a professional fighter, be so candid about mental health and nerves is refreshing. To learn that the man who spent ten rounds inside the octagon with a fighter who’s nick name is the “Soldier of God” has doubts outside of fist fights is a comforting thing. Despite reaching the highest heights in the UFC, Whittaker, like most people, has battles within himself that are just as challenging as the ones he faces inside the octagon. His battle is equally about the doubts fans have cast upon his legitimacy and the presumably high expectations he puts upon himself. While out due to Injuries, the small buzz for Whittaker has only gotten smaller as his next opponent- Israel Adesanya– has skyrocketed up the ranking and in the eyes of fans.
In opposition to Whittaker, Adesanya is a flashy fighter- in both his fighting style and personality. He exudes charisma and has been piling up wins since joining the UFC early last year. Adesanya had buzz right from the start, with early comparisons to fellow middleweight legend Anderson Silva. The challenger may be battling the expectations put forth by fans, but Whittaker is battling to prove them wrong. Whittaker has not had the upward momentum of Adesanya; it took two straight losses at welterweight for him to move up and reinvent himself. Since then he has rattled off nine wins in a row- two of these wins against Yoel Romero, which is no small feat. Yet there are always doubts cast upon Whittakers legitimacy by the general fan base. Doubt has been the defining characteristic of every Whittaker fight- despite convincing victories. Most comments about Whittaker have to do with his inactivity, or that he should have lost the last Romero fight. If he wins this Saturday, the talk will most likely be about Adesanya being overrated rather than Whittaker being the incredible talent he is.
Whittaker’s Chance to Cement his Legacy
Without looking at the minds of both fighters, this fight is still incredibly enticing-the odds for the main event prove this. Whittaker is a clever striker who’s defensive wrestling made Yoel Romero look less like the Olympian he is and more like a collegiate athlete. Adesanya, who transitioned from kickboxing, is equally as clever with his feinting and kicking game. His style is easy on the eyes and not so easy on his opponents. Regardless of the outcome, it is undoubtedly going to be an impressive battle for both men. When you dig deeper, and understand what makes both fighters themselves, however, we are left with two men who are opposites- one who is constantly doubted, even by himself, despite being one of the best active fighters. The other, Adesanya, seemingly being destined for this position despite not quite earning it until his win against Kelvin Gastelum in April. Robert Whittaker is battling more than Israel Adesanya but win or lose, Whitaker will still be the reserved and doubted champion. Like we have come to find out though, it is a familiar battle.
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