UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker was one of the millions of people who saw the cracker of a competition between Israel Adesanya and Kelvin Gastelum. Despite acknowledging the fact that Adesanya dug deep and unearthed hidden reservoirs of potential, Whittaker believes his game was exposed against Gastelum.
It goes without saying that the fight between Whittaker and Adesanya will be of prime significance for the division. Firstly it will serve as a title unification bout. Secondly the impending bad blood between the two is not hidden from anyone. It all began when Whittaker said Adesanya “wasn’t as good as he thinks he is” and that his UFC 234 victory over Anderson Silva wasn’t particularly impressive.
“I think this fight forced him to draw a little bit more out of the tank, a little bit more will power, a little bit more heart,” Whittaker told “Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show” on ESPN. “You can see in the fight his ups and downs. A little bit more trials, a little bit more obstacles he had to get over. The adversity he had to get through to make sure he lasted to the end of the fight. I thought it was an amazing fight from both guys.
“If you watch the fight you can see the holes that were there from every fight before, they just got exposed bigger. There were holes and there were a lot of things Gastelum exploited, and there were a lot of things Gastelum could’ve exploited but couldn’t because of his makeup, because of his striking style, because of his height, his reach. Gastelum was getting in. Gastelum was landing his left. I’ll get in, I’ll land my right. I’m much faster than Gastelum, I’m a better striker. Israel should be very worried. I’m a very hard fight.”
Adesanya has repeatedly called out Whittaker for not defending the belt enough and for his inactivity. He has also vouched for him being stripped of the belt. Adesanya has declared himself the real champion but Whittaker believes that it is because of Adesanya’s inability to share the spotlight.
“He had a great win on the weekend and it seems like every time someone asks him a question or they put the spotlight on him for two seconds, he can’t help but mention my name; it’s a little concerning to be honest,” Whittaker said. “He can’t stand the fact people like me more than him. And even if they don’t, he can’t stand the fact people are talking about me in the same sentence as him. He can’t do it. He wants all the spotlight. He wants all the attention, and he can have it. But I find it funny that it gets to him. Just relax, mate. Great fight. You got yourself a shiny belt. We can fight for my one later.
“I’ve got to say, I don’t understand why this guy is riled up about what I said. The only critical thing I’ve ever said about him is I don’t think he’s as good as he thinks he is. You take that how you want, but he makes it seem like I’m talking behind his back all the time. That’s just how I feel, sorry. Sorry it gets you so upset. He just needs to relax.”
Adesanya’s banter on Whittaker is primarily centered around two things – his inactive reign as a champion and the fact that he represents Australia despite being born in New Zealand.
“I’m the only thing in his head,” Whittaker said. “Surely he could be using his spotlight for other purposes. For instance, he’s calling me like a fake New Zealander, a fake Australian. Like, wow. They’re pretty heavy comments. When he could be using his spotlight to further other purposes. Like myself, when the spotlight is put onto me I get to plug my education programs. I’m bringing education programs to New Zealand next year, a lot of people don’t know this. This is one of one of the other things I’m working on right now with my team. The only thing Israel can talk about is me. I’m flattered to be honest.
“If I’m a fake New Zealander, then what is he? It’s just one of those things. And as for every time I see him, I have no beef with him at all. If he wants me to be critical every time I see him then we can sit down and we can have coffee and we can go over every fault I see in his game. I’ll do that if you want too. Otherwise I’ll just say, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ And keep my mouth shut. Any differences we have, for whatever reason he’s made them personal, we’ll sort it out in the octagon sooner or later.”
The added layer of the Trans-Tasman angle has added new dimensions to their rivalry. Their meeting is destined to leave fireworks inside the Octagon. Rumour has it that the UFC is searching for a suitable venue in Sydney for the fight.
Irrespective of the venue the match up between the two wouldn’t be something that any UFC fan could afford to miss.