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Robert Whittaker: How Bobby Got His Knuckles Back

July 11, 2017 | Posted by Evan Zivin

Seriously, where did Robert Whittaker come from?

If you had told me a year ago that Robert Whittaker, a guy with a win on his UFC resume against Colton “Don’t Pretend Like You Remember Who He Is Because I Know You Don’t Remember Who He Is” Smith, would be a UFC champion in 2017, I would have said you were as crazy as Joanna Jedrzejczyk agreeing to take a fight at 135 on a few hours notice.

Granted, that’s partly because Michael Bisping was champion and I assumed that, once he won the belt, he would just lock himself inside his house and refuse to leave. Still, it did seem quite improbable that Whittaker, a man with a decent, albeit mostly unimpressive, fighting resume, would transform into the dominant force that beat one of the most unbeatable fighters in the UFC to become the interim UFC Middleweight Champion.

And yet, that’s what happened on Saturday night at UFC 213, a night that seemed destined to become about not what happened on the show but what didn’t happen, namely the planned main event for the Women’s Bantamweight Championship between champion Amanda Nunes and challenger Valentina Shevchenko.

The fight was primed to be a good clash between two solid strikers, despite a lack of any real promotion from the UFC beyond Joe Rogan yelling “THIS CARD IS TOTES STACKED, YOU GUYS! SRSLY!”, but it was not meant to be, as Nunes pulled out of the fight the day of for medical reasons.

The champ claimed sinusitis as the culprit that could do what neither Ronda Rousey nor Miesha Tate could do and take Nunes out of a fight, which Dana White translated as “being mental” because doctors medically cleared her after the minimal checks they performed to make sure her issues weren’t due to a bad weight cut. Dana then proceeded to throw another champion under the bus, saying he’ll never promote Nunes as a main event ever again.

He then started getting himself psyched up for Jon Jones’ main event fight on July 29. Probably.

To think where this company would be right now if it wasn’t being run by a cartoon character…

As far as the fights go, this event, and the International Fight Week it was a part of, was mostly a mess. From main events falling apart (Garbrandt vs. Dillashaw) to main events that never existed long enough to properly fall apart (Bisping vs. GSP) to main events falling apart the day of the show, it felt like everything barely held together.

You know a show is in trouble when Donald Cerrone gets pulled from it. That dude fights 20 times a year and still finds time to do other things like fly fishing or flaming bullriding or whatever he does to take his mind off the fact he still gets paid jack.

Even the fights themselves were pretty awful, the brightest spot being Justin Gaethje successfully legitimizing himself as a UFC caliber fighter in the main event of the TUF 25 Finale on Friday. He took all the toughness and resiliency and experience he’s displayed for years in hard wins over…um…

Wait, who did he beat in World Series of Fighting? Dan…something? That one armed guy? Palomino? Is that the name of a fighter? Does that sound like the name of a fighter? It kinda does. It’s either that or the name of a Latin American pizza chain.

Either way, Justin came to the UFC to prove he can compete with the best and he did that, weathering a brutal storm to push through and beat Michael Johnson with strikes inside of two rounds. Gaethje took the best strikes Johnson had, ate them, and used his relentless pressure to end the night of the #5 ranked lightweight in the frontrunner for Fight of the Year.

It was the best debut performance he could have hoped for, with talks of a title shot already on people’s lips. There’s no way that Gaethje will be able to withstand that level of punishment over a the course of a longterm UFC career, so ride the wave as far as it’ll take you, kid. If it takes you to the top, let us know how the air tastes from up there. Probably like Conor McGregor’s brow sweat…

But it wasn’t the only quality performance of the weekend, as Whittaker did the unthinkable and knocked off Yoel Romero in Saturday’s main event to make him the sole name that Michael Bisping is clearly ducking so he can stay champion just a little bit longer.

I kid, Mike. Now go back to tearing up pictures of flags and giving in cage promos that would make Stephan Bonnar vomit with rage. It’s clearly what you’re best at.

I don’t say any of that to diminish Whittaker’s victory because it was a good one. He struggled a little in the first two rounds shrugging off Romero’s takedown attempts and working around that awful shin kick that fighters shouldn’t be allowed to utilize, since the only effect it has is busting up your opponent’s knee, but Robert toughed it out, adjusted his movement, and pulled away in the final three rounds by consistently landing punches and brushing off any grappling attempts from the exhausted Cuban olympian.

That was a championship worthy performance right there, fighting off one of the most successful wrestlers in the UFC, battling through injury and nullifying multiple flying knee attempts (remember when Yoel caved in Chris Weidman’s face? Good times) to stay on point and win the battle. For a fighter who has faced a lot of names but very few ranked names, it was a truly awe-inspiring performance.

Seriously, the most I knew about Whittaker before this fight is that his hands are pretty good and his wife looks good in blue yoga pants. I wouldn’t have assumed before his victory over Ronaldo Souza last April that he was good enough to be a contender, let alone champion.

That’s all changed now. Whittaker stepped up, fought his way into a huge opportunity, and seized it the way any elite level fighter would.

Congratulations, Robert. You truly earned this title. Bilbo and Frodo and everyone else in Middle Earth must be so proud.

Sorry, I don’t much about New Zealand. Maybe I should’ve just said something about didgeridoos instead. What a fun word.

Oh, and congratulations are also in order for Michael Bisping, as Whittaker’s victory was the best possible outcome for the UFC Middleweight Champion. I mean, between Whittaker, Romero, and Georges St-Pierre (Dana White says that fight is off but he also said Conor wasn’t fighting Mayweather, among many other obvious lies), Whittaker is the most favorable matchup for Bisping’s next defense.

I would expect Bisping will get lit up with punches a’plenty if he does go through with fighting Whittaker but at least he won’t have to worry about being taken down. That’s a win all by itself, right?

Plus, at least his nickname isn’t “Razor” Blaydes. Isn’t that right, Curtis?

That isn’t anything to worry about, though. With the kind of performance he had in beating Daniel Omielanczuk, the only thing this razor is cutting is any chance at a pay raise.

You get it? It’s funny because the UFC is a billion dollar entity and still pays its fighters peanuts.

I’m sad now.

Gegard, come back…

Evan Zivin has been writing for 411 MMA since May of 2013. Evan loves the sport, and likes to takes a lighthearted look at the world of MMA in his writing…usually.

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Robert Whittaker, Evan Zivin