A Scotsman in Limbo

By Peter Carroll May 24, 2017

Robert Whiteford thought matchmaker Sean Shelby’s handshake two months ago confirmed he had booked his Ultimate Fighting Championship return when the promotion touches down for a second time on June 16 at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow, Scotland. When the UFC made its debut in the city in 2015, Whiteford was the star of the show.

Those in attendance exploded when “The Hammer” made his way to the Octagon, a chorus belting out “The Flower of Scotland” in support. A first-round knockout of Paul Redmond set the gathering to a fever pitch, and afterward, Whiteford sat in front of the assembled media and forecast big things for his future in the UFC. Following decision losses to Darren Elkins and Lucas Martins, the Scot was unceremoniously cut from the organization, a day before his birthday. Even so, Whiteford was assured he would be given another shot if he could get back on track.

In two subsequent appearances under the Absolute Championship Berkut banner, the 34-year-old judo black belt took a unanimous decision from Kevin Petshi and rendered Nam Phan unconscious with a front choke in less than 30 seconds. With 10 fights already booked for UFC Fight Night 113 in his home country, Whiteford has begun to wonder whether or not he will get his second chance.

“I know a lot of people who get cut from UFC are told that if they get a few wins [the UFC] will have you back,” Whiteford told Sherdog.com. “After my win against Phan, I thought that would be a realistic situation for me. I was cut quite drastically from the UFC. New owners came in, and the money had to come down. Sean Shelby told me that if I could get a few wins on the European scene he would have me back. He even gave me a timeframe and said that if I could get back on track before the UFC Glasgow card he would have me back.

“I was cornering Marc Diakiese in London earlier this year, and he shook my hand and told me I would be on the Glasgow card,” he added. “I appreciate that Sean’s job is very difficult and he has a lot of contracted fighters to worry about before getting to me, but a handshake means something where I come from. The response I got from the crowd after my performance at the first Glasgow card was tremendous. I’ve got back on track in dramatic fashion against Phan at ACB, so I figured the call would’ve come by now.”

One of the sternest tests in the career of any MMA fighter is how he or she reacts to being trimmed from the UFC roster. Whiteford’s rebound has been resounding, but he admits he considered hanging up his gloves when he received his pink slip.

“Look, it’s not the best situation to be in, but I didn’t cry about it,” he said. “I’ve still got a good lifestyle outside of the UFC. My life is training and fighting, and it’s been like that since day one. It’s not like I’m down in the dumps and I’ve moved to a new gym with different training partners. I dusted myself off and got on with it. It was a s--- time, and if I’m honest, retirement was on my mind around then. I got my marching orders a day before my birthday. It’s very hard to be happy about that kind of situation, but I dusted myself off and got back in there.”

According to the American Top Team rep, a number of promotions have shown interest in his services. While fighting for the UFC in Glasgow remains his preference, Whiteford acknowledges that he would have to start looking at other options if the call does not come soon.

“I’ve been offered plenty of fights,” he said. “We’re having a look at everything. We’re going to take something soon. I’m in the U.S. at the moment. I’ve continued my camp over here. I’m getting ready to fight. I’m not doing all of this work for nothing. The ideal situation, of course, would be fighting in Glasgow.”

Whiteford caused quite a stir with his respectful callout of SBG Ireland’s Artem Lobov, who went the distance in a unanimous decision defeat to Cub Swanson in the UFC Fight Night 108 main event on April 22. Public reaction suggests that those in Glasgow would welcome the matchup.

“I don’t know if Artem would like to drop down to the prelims, to tell you the truth,” Whiteford said in a playful tone. “He’s [a] main-event big shot now. I don’t know if he wants to mix it with prelim paupers like me. I know the fans would [expletive] love that fight. It’s making Sean Shelby’s job very easy.

“The only thing I don’t like about the fight is the fact that I get on so well with a lot of the SBG gang,” he added. “They’re all very respectful. I hope they all understand that’s it’s just business at the end of the day. I really respect what the team has done. Everybody in Europe wants to see that fight.”

Much has changed with the UFC’s Scottish contingent since it last visited Glasgow. Whiteford, Steven Ray and Joanne Calderwood sat united at the post-fight press conference in 2015, and one could feel the pride local fans had in their homegrown stars in the aftermath of the event. Ahead of UFC Fight Night “Nelson vs. Ponzinibbio,” Ray has engaged Scottish light heavyweight Paul Craig in a war of words on Twitter. Whiteford prefers to see his fellow Scots stick together.

“It’s two Scottish guys in the UFC; they should have each other’s backs,” he said. “S--- has been said. Paul and Stevie are two completely different characters, and they don’t seem to get along. Unfortunately, it’s an all too familiar thing with Scottish people. I’d rather not give my full opinion on it, but I would prefer to see some unity in the Scottish UFC ranks. I really think if I get on the card I can bring everyone back together. We want the whole country to be behind every Scottish fighter on the card. Like last time, the Scottish fans will want to see all of us united and fighting our hearts out as a nation.”

Whiteford admits he might not attend the event as a spectator, not when he had his heart set on competing.

“I could definitely watch it, but I don’t know if I could be there to watch it in the building,” he said. “I’d be pretty gutted, to be honest. There is no point in lying about it. I’ll be cornering Diakiese in Vegas the week before, during International Fight Week, so if I don’t hear from the UFC, I can just hang around a bit longer to drown my sorrows.”
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