If he wasn’t a contender before UFC on Fox 24, Robert Whittaker definitely is now following his thrashing of Ronaldo Souza in Kansas City, Mo., on Saturday night.
“The Reaper” won his sixth consecutive middleweight bout and seventh straight overall with a dominant performance against the heralded “Jacare,” as he stopped the Brazilian grappling ace with a head kick and follow-up ground strikes 3:28 into the second round of their bout.
“I prepared for the fight to be that way. I’ve been training countless hours for this fight. We went through all the situations and scenarios that could possibly happen and we drilled them,” Whittker said. “This was a scenario that arose, and I executed a game plan.”
Although the Whittaker was largely in control, he did have to survive one moment where the two-tie Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championship gold medalist briefly attached himself to his back in the opening stanza. However, the Australian fighter was able to escape relatively quickly, and he spent the rest of the fight punishing “Jacare” on the feet.
“I think a lot of people let the hype get in their heads given he’s a legend of jiu-jitsu and MMA. I have great coaches and I train to fight,” Whittaker said. “I know that it’s a fight at the end of the day, it’s not a grappling match, it’s not a jiu-jitsu match; all I have to do is get back up and punch him.”
That’s exactly what Whittaker did at the outset of round two, flooring his foe with a right hand less than a minute into the frame. The Brazilian never truly recovered from there, and Whittaker never took his foot off the gas.
“I think it might be a fighter thing, but I know when I’ve hurt my opponent. When I know I’ve hurt my opponent, I know how to keep hurting my opponent,” he said. “I know how to use that to my advantage and I did that.”
Count UFC President Dana White among those impressed by the 26-year-old Australian’s breakout performance.
“He’s been a guy I’ve been a big fan of for a long time,” White said. “Basically what I said, is the first clinch is gonna tell how this fight’s gonna go. That was exciting. He literally took his time. He was calm, smooth, composed — jumped in and did damage when it was time to do it. Kept his distance. Another flawless fight. He fought a perfect fight.”
After beginning his UFC tenure at 170 pounds, Whittaker’s middleweight resume includes wins over Souza, Derek Brunson, Uriah Hall and Rafael Natal, among others. One bout that got away, however, was a proposed showdown with Michael Bisping at UFC 193 in November 2015. “The Count” was forced to withdraw from that bout to undergo surgery on his elbow.
Since then, Bisping beat Anderson Silva, captured middleweight gold with an upset of Luke Rockhold and defended the crown against Dan Henderson. He is scheduled to face longtime welterweight king Georges St. Pierre in his next title defense later this year, a matchup that figures to hold up the division for a while. Nonetheless, it appears that Whittaker is set on pursuing championship hardware.
“I’m on my run; I want that belt,” he said. “Bisping owed me a fight. If he’s tied up or if he loses it, or whatever, I want that belt. Wherever it goes, I want it.”
However, Yoel Romero likely remains ahead of Whittaker in the contender’s queue, meaning that it could be quite some time before a title shot becomes available. White does not encourage the hard-hitting Aussie to spend too much time on the sidelines.
“I’m never a big fan of sitting back and waiting because you never know what’s gonna happen,” White said. “I’ve seen guys that have opted to sit back and wait when I told them not to, and you know what happens: You don’t make any money, you sit around for a long time. The unfortunate and fortunate part of this business is people forget real quick.
“Whether you come off a great win or a you come off a horrible loss, our memories are very short.”