Abu Dhabi, UAE — Former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker returns to the octagon this weekend at UFC 254. And if his fight against Jared Cannonier is not an official title eliminator, it might has well be.
Talk early on, at least from current champ Israel Adesanya, has been about Cannonier, about the American getting the next crack at gold with a win. Of course, Adesanya has also been feuding with Jon Jones, whose move to heavyweight may or may not be imminent. But where does that leave “The Reaper?”
During this week’s UFC 254 media day in Abu Dhabi, Whittaker was asked if the champion “owed” him a chance to reclaim his title.
“I don’t think anyone owes anybody anything,” answered Whittaker. “I just want to fight Jared right now. I’m not really thinking about it at all. Whatever he wants to do, he can do. He can fight anyone. I don’t care.”
You’d have to imagine that, when it comes to his long-term aspirations of course, Whittaker does care. But the Australian fighter isn’t that far removed from what he acknowledges as a period of being burned out on the sport. Whittaker was scheduled to face Cannonier at UFC 248 earlier this year. He eventually pulled out of the fight due to injury, but admitted this week that he frankly didn’t care at the time.
“This time around is very, very different,” Whittaker told Cageside Press on Tuesday. “Just in the fact that I want to train, I want to fight, I want to be here. Whereas when I was leading up to the first one, I didn’t care. I didn’t care, I was just going through the paces, doing what I thought I had to do. Because that’s what being burned out is, just trudging along.”
As Whittaker, sees it, “that fight was never meant to be anyway. I got injured two weeks before I was supposed to fight. Everything happens for a reason.”
Now, he’s got the Cannonier fight back, with a very different state of mind. And he refuses to look past his opponent. “I have had hard fights, and I expect a very hard fight from Jared. He’s a very hard dude. I’m not sleeping on his skill set, I’m not sleeping on his power,” said Whittaker.
“He can beat me. I could lose,” Whittaker admitted. “But I don’t think I will.”
UFC 254 takes place on “Fight Island” (Yas Island) in Abu Dhabi at the Flash Forum on Saturday, October 24. The main card airs live on PPV following televised and online prelims.