Robert Whittaker: Australia's youngest Ultimate Fighter
After winning The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes series, Robert Whittaker is the youngest Aussie fighting in the UFC
Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Robert Whittaker quit his job, kissed his fiancé goodbye and bid farewell to his closest friends and family to chase his dream of becoming a UFC champion.
The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) reality tv show locks a group of sixteen aspiring fighters away in a house, with only one man walking away with a six figure contract with the world's elite MMA organisation.
The isolated set-up is both mentally and physically testing for the athletes involved, but for Whittaker his hard work and dedication ultimately paid off.
“[The Ultimate Fighter] was the worst experience of my life (laughs)"
"They really try to take you out of your element in that house. They try to break you with the rigorous training and I think a few of the boys broke mentally and didn’t want to be in there anymore. It’s hard (being) in there being away from your friends, family, technology and everything you take for granted.”
The proud Australian with a southern cross tattooed across his chest has been a martial artist since he was seven. Beginning in karate and judoka, Whittaker found his way into MMA at age fifteen when his trainer, Henry Perez, transformed his gym from hapkido to MMA and Whittaker was instantly hooked.
Years later, but still a teenager at age eighteen, Whittaker began competing in MMA with a debut first round knockout and it was off to the races from there.
“I have always been a competitive person. I was competitive in karate and judo and when the school changed to only do MMA my only way to compete was in the cage,” he continued.
“After my first fight I realised how much sacrifice was needed and how much more I had to give up to go anywhere in this game.”
Cage Fighting Championship (CFC), Australia’s most recognisable MMA promotion, was where Whittaker plied his trade and grew from a rookie local fighter into one of the best Australian mixed martial artists at 170 pounds (77kg). In his final appearance for the promotion, he unsuccessfully challenged for the CFC welterweight crown, losing to Bellator and Strikeforce veteran Jesse Juarez. The following months were a major rollercoaster of emotions for Whittaker.
One moment the twenty-two-year-old was mourning the biggest loss of his professional career and then, in the blink of an eye, he had his foot in the door with the UFC on the hit reality TV series The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes (Australia v. U.K theme).
“Losing to Jesse Juarez was devastating; it was my first time competing with that calibre of fighter and I feel I needed that fight and that loss in order to develop as a man,” Whittaker said.
“You have to jump at opportunities when they arise and soon after I was on the show and I knew this was my time to shine.”
Rob was a dedicated competitor on the series. While others were blinded by the bright lights and prospect of fame, Whittaker had his eye on the ball. A vastly improved fighter, he asserted his dominance on the series by knocking out Britain’s Luke Newman and fellow Aussie Xavier Lucas.
As the last Australian standing, the young Aussie prospect had a lot of weight on his shoulders when he met Bradley Scott in the finale last December, but thousands of raucous fans in the Gold Coast Convention & Exhibition Center screaming and hollering their support proved a great equaliser.
Whittaker admits that it took him off guard at first, but after cooling his nerves while his British counterpart marched towards the Octagon, the Sydney-based fighter was ready to battle for a slot in the UFC.
“To try and describe the feeling, I couldn’t do it justice. It was absolutely unbelievable. As soon as I walked out I could feel the vibrations of the crowd cheering and it was inspiring and I couldn’t believe how many people were there to support me.” Whittaker said.
Showing the mature presence of a fighter with twice his experience, Whittaker floored his opponent with a powerful and accurate shot but Scott survived the early onslaught.
Both men kept their composure with Scott forcing a takedown in the middle frame, seeking a rear naked choke but the Australian broke free.
Ultimately, Whittaker was able to out point Scott with his technical boxing and dynamic striking to comfortably collect a decision victory and become the youngest Aussie fighting in the UFC.
“I’m my own biggest critic, in my fighting I see a lot of holes and flaws in my fight plan but I’m happy with the amount of work I put in to achieving my goals. I just want to close those holes and make it better.” Rob said.
The TUF champion wants to become the first UFC champion to come from the land down under. It’s going to be a long, hard journey filled with twists and turns in one of the most talent rich divisions in the organisation and it all begins this year.
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