Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Robert Whittaker isn’t stepping out of the middleweight title picture just yet.
“The Reaper” successfully held his spot in the contenders’ line on Saturday with a unanimous decision win over Jared Cannonier in the co-main event of UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi. In the lead-up to the fight, much of the talk swirled around Cannonier cementing a championship opportunity with a win—especially with current champion Israel Adesanya recently naming Cannonier as future challenger—but Whittaker pressed pause on that narrative.
“It’s very appealing to me,” White said. “It’s the fight that makes sense right now. Adesanya has a lot of options, but the fight that makes the most sense is Whittaker. I thought Cannonier was gonna be a much tougher challenge for him.
“He looked good tonight. So the Adesanya fight makes sense.”
Any argument against Whittaker fighting Adesanya again might stem from how “The Last Stylebender” disposed of Whittaker 12 months ago. Adesanya capped off a strong performance with a second-round KO to end Whittaker’s reign and a nine-fight win streak.
Since then, Whittaker has spoken openly about his struggles with mental health and being burnt out by the demands that come with being an elite UFC fighter. Nine months after the loss to Adesanya, Whittaker returned at a Fight Island show in July to defeat Darren Till by unanimous decision. With the win over Cannonier, he has now won 11 of his last 12 fights.
Another factor getting in the way of Adesanya-Whittaker 2 is the fact that Whittaker has expressly said he has no interest in fighting again before the end of the year. Speaking to the media earlier this week, Whittaker repeatedly stated that he’s not looking past Cannonier and that he’s looking forward to spending Christmas with his family.
When a hypothetical title fight in December was brought up, Whittaker offered this response:
“Aw, f*ck. I don’t know. (long pause) I’ll worry about that then, honestly, because I’d have to talk it out with my team and if they thought it was the best move, they’d have a hell of a convincing job ahead of them. Otherwise, I don’t have to worry about it. The only fight that’s in my sights is Saturday and that’s the only one that matters at this point.”
If Whittaker is out of the picture for any extended period of time, it’s possible that Adesanya will be matched up with the winner of a fight between Till and Jack Hermansson scheduled for Dec. 5. Otherwise, the UFC could look into the budding feud between Adesanya and Jon Jones, and maybe negotiate a superfight between those two before Jones makes a long-anticipated move to heavyweight.