Robert Whittaker had a few goals in mind when he first joined the UFC in 2012, one was to become a champion and to take his belt back to his home country of Australia.
Whittaker accomplished that feat when he defeated Yoel Romero for the UFC Interim Middleweight Championship in July of 2017 before beating promoted to Champion when Georges St-Pierre vacated his title just 34 days after submitting Michael Bisping in November of 2017.
However, his next goal has not come as easy. That goal was to defend his championship in his home country. “The Reaper” had a chance to do that in February of 2018, but a month before the fight he was forced to pull out due to medical reasons.
After defending his title against Romero again in June, Whittaker will now fulfill his goal as he will defend his middleweight strap in the land down under this Saturday at UFC 234 against Kelvin Gastelum.
“It is a big deal, this my home country and I’m the current champion and I’m defending my championship on home soil,” Whittaker said earlier this week on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show on ESPN. “I go into this fight with those pressures and knowing this is my stage and my limelight.”
This fight will be the second time in Whittaker’s UFC career that he has fought on Aussie soil. In 2016, he headlined a card against Derek Brunson in which he won by TKO in the first round. However, this fight will be different has he is facing someone who has taken a similar path to himself.
Both Whittaker and Gastelum started their UFC careers at welterweight, and both fighters have been a tear since making the 15-pound jump from 170 to 185 pounds. Whittaker is a perfect 8-0 at middleweight including two wins in championship fights. Gastelum, who missed weight three times at welterweight, is 4-1 with one no contest since moving up including a win over Bisping two weeks after Bisping lost his belt to St-Pierre.
Both fighters have a new sense of confidence and Gastelum sees himself winning the fight by first round knockout, but Whittaker doesn’t see himself losing on his home turf.
“I’m coming in really good,” the first ever Australian UFC champ said. “This is probably the healthiest and strongest I have ever been. I’m a good fighter on a bad day.”
For as confident has Whittaker is, he is not looking past his opponent. Whittaker said he brought boxers into his camp to him prepare him for Gastelum’s heavy hands. He also knows that Gastelum will be ready to go on fight night, as he see’s a lot of Gastelum in himself.
“He doesn’t get the props he deserves,” Whittaker said. “I was that guy and look what I did. I’m aware that his skill set is every good. The biggest thing I think that play’s a big role is that he’s tough, he’s hungry, and he’s young. Those three combinations in any fighter is dangerous.
UFC 234 will be live on Pay Per View this Saturday with main card set to start at 10:00 Eastern Standard Time. The prelims will be live on ESPN at 8:00, which will be the ESPN’s first time hosting the UFC prelims prior to a Pay Per View.