It was way back in July 2017 when Robert Whittaker won the interim UFC Middleweight championship after beating Yoel Romero but the Kiwi fighter has not defended his belt even once till now. The first title defense was scheduled for UFC 225 but the match became a non-title fight after Romero missed weight.
However, that will all change on Sunday as Whittaker will be taking on Kelvin Gastelum in the main event of UFC 234 with the Middleweight Championship belt on the line.
With nine consecutive victories under his belt, Whittaker has been a force to be reckoned with in his division. He dominated most of those bouts and ended up winning four ‘Fight of the Night’ wins and three ‘Performance of the Night’ awards. Ahead of his first title defense, he sounded quite confident when asked about his chances and made it clear that the belt does not come with any extra pressure.
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“It’s the same pressure as any other fight really. There may be a little bit of added pressure from the expectations of the crowd and fans and things like that but it’s one of those things that comes with the crown,” Whittaker told Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview ahead of UFC 234.
Whittaker’s opponent – Kelvin Gastelum – has also impressed everyone with his performances off late and his last two wins came against big names like Rondaldo Souza and Michael Bisping. Whittaker praised Gastelum as a challenger and even called him ‘one of the most dangerous fighters to date’.
“He’s got to be one of the most dangerous fighters to date for sure. He’s well rounded and he’s got a great skill set. He’s got pop, he’s fast, he’s young, hungry, tough and he’s got nothing to lose,” he said.
Kelvin Gastelum celebrates during the UFC Fight Night at Mercedes-Benz Arena.
The lack of big fights has prevented Whittaker to find the amount of recognition that some of the other champions enjoy but that does not make him any less dangerous.
The fights against Romero proved that the 28-year-old can last for five rounds and with Gastelum preferring a takedown strategy, that can come quite handy. When asked about his game plan ahead of the fight, Whittaker did not reveal much but he made it clear that he believes that he is a better fighter than Gastelum.
“Like I said, he’s very good but I am better across the board,” he concluded.
First Published: Feb 09, 2019 19:53 IST