Robert Whittaker last stepped foot inside the Octagon on 9th June 2018. When he gets back in with Adesanya next week, he will be putting an end to the longest he has been away from the Octagon.
Even during his last fight with Yoel Romero, Whittaker was coming off a long layoff of almost an year. That means that being away from the sport for a fair amount of time isn’t something that is new for the Australian. Nonetheless, he still thinks it can be a big enough factor to impact his in ring performance.
“I do believe in ring rust if you’re not doing certain things to prepare yourself for competition,” Whittaker told reporters on Wednesday’s UFC 243 conference call. “If you’re not competing at all, if you haven’t competed at all and you’re not used to the adrenaline dump, not used to the pressure that comes with competing, then certainly the pressure is going to get to you and you might falter.
“I’ve been competing in jiu-jitsu, I’ve been competing in wrestling, I’ve been sparring in ways to increase the pressure and feel that. There’s ways to combat that. I also think once you reach a certain level – I know what to do. I’ve been there before, I’ve felt the pressure before, and I know that come October I’m going to walk in there and do my best.”
During this long absence, Whittaker was once matched up to fight Kelvin Gastelum in February this year. However, Whittaker pulled out of the event a few hours beforehand after he was forced to undergo emergency dual surgery immediately, due to an abdominal hernia of the intestine and a twisted and collapsed bowel. These ensuing health issues are now becoming a norm for “The Reaper”. During the past year, he has also suffered from chickenpox and nagging knee injuries. But these setbacks have only made him a better man and he hopes to come out in pristine physical form on fight night.
“I feel absolutely amazing,” Whittaker said. “After that emergency surgery I just doubled down on my health. I put full attention on how I’m feeling, how I’m performing and just my overall health. On the back of that I’ve become stronger.”
A long absence for the champion also implies that a queue of contenders begin to pile up. Same is the case with the middleweight division as well. While Whittaker is ready for all of them, his immediate focus is on his next opponent – Israel Adesanya.
“My next challenge is always the hardest challenge that I’m facing,” Whittaker said. “The next fighter is always the biggest threat to me. He’s always the guy who can take everything away and stop me. So he’s definitely my biggest threat right now, definitely my biggest challenge, and I’m going to rise to the occasion.”
UFC 243 takes place Oct. 5 at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Australia.