UFC Paris: What Does The Next Chapter Hold for Whittaker and Vettori?

Robert Whittaker and Marvin Vettori, UFC Paris
Robert Whittaker and Marvin Vettori, UFC Paris Ceremonial Weigh-In Credit: Jay Anderson/Cageside Press

Former champion Robert Whittaker and former title challenger Marvin Vettori look to assert their place in the middleweight pecking order in the co-main event of UFC Paris.

If the past several weeks are any indication, one should not simply write off the stars of this Saturday’s co-headliner.

Former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker did the hard work that was  asked of him.  After blazing a trail to the title once before, he went back into the shark tank of contenders and turned away Darren Till, Jared Cannonier, and Kelvin Gastelum to reassert his dominance at 185 pounds.  “The Reaper” had already cemented himself as one of the top new talents to emerge in the 2010’s overall, but his run post-title was arguably more impressive as he dismantled fellow eager contenders who treated their fights with him as potential title eliminators.

Last February, however, he found himself once again on the wrong side of a bout with Israel Adesanya with the title on the line.  Despite his best efforts, the champion bested Whittaker in a bout that displayed the talent of both men.  While Adesanya continues his march through the division, Whittaker begins the unenviable task of navigating the landscape of his natural weight class while holding two losses to the current champion.  But it should be clear that hope is not lost.  Just two weeks ago, Leon Edwards beat the odds and the clock to not only change his own life, but reinvigorate a whole division as previously dispatched contenders find themselves with another opportunity to get right back to the belt now that there’s a new champion in charge.

Marvin Vettori is currently enjoying a moment in his own career.  Though in similar shoes as Whittaker in terms of having lost twice to the current champion, “The Italian Dream” is arguably at his most popular today for the way he handled last October’s fiasco against Paulo Costa.  When his opponent arrived to fight week nowhere within striking distance of the agreed upon weight limit, Vettori took the changes in stride and accepted the fight a full weight class above what he had signed for when the bout was made.

Vettori prevailed in what was one of the most exciting bouts of 2021.  After coming up short in his own rematch to Adesanya last year, and drawing the ire of fans for his immediate post-fight comments, his performance and gamesmanship in the bout with Costa has led to Vettori turning the corner in the minds of fans.  He is unquestionably no-less than the third best fighter in the division and could take home the place of the second with a strong victory on Saturday.  Similar to Whittaker, any shake up in the title picture could open the door for him to leap right into a title fight should he emerge with his hand raised.

Both physically gifted athletes for the middleweight division, the movement of Whittaker figures to be the best weapon on either side as the former champion is amongst the best at controlling the distance when getting in-and-out of range.  The more plodding Vettori will likely need to eat several shots to get within striking distance or use his wrestling to try to get Whittaker down.  For Whittaker, working behind his jab and kicks to the calf are key to slowing down Vettori.  Whittaker’s output improves over time as he tends to get more effective behind his precision and conditioning as the fight wears on.

While no clear cut opponent is next for Saturday’s winner, they will undoubtedly look for a top-ranked contender in their next outing to maintain their position in the division.  Should Whittaker be the winner, then a fight with former title challenger Paulo Costa or the winner of the upcoming bout between Jack Hermansson and Derek Brunson.  Considering Vettori holds a recent win over Costa, a rematch is unlikely and he will likely look to see if Brunson or Jared Cannonier prevail in their upcoming bouts in order to set up a fight.