UFC Fight Night 3: Robert Whittaker proves he's 'championship level' with hard-fought victory over Darren Till
Former middleweight champion closes out Fight Island with unanimous decision
Robert Whittaker says he came through one of his most stressful tests in the UFC as he bounced back against Darren Till in Abu Dhabi on Sunday to prove he is "championship-level".
The former middleweight champion, 29, defeated his English opponent by unanimous decision in the headline bout at UFC Fight Night 3, which closed out the inaugural, four-event Fight Island.
Whittaker has not fought since October, when he lost his belt to Israel Adesanya in Melbourne – a reverse that prompted he to take time away from the sport as he cited burnout.
Against Till, the Australian was knocked down in the opening round, but rebounded to take an incredibly close-run fight at Flash Forum. All three judges scored it 48-47.
Asked afterwards how he felt, Whittaker (21-5 MMA, 12-3 UFC) said: “Good, I guess. Really, really relieved. Obviously there was a lot of pressure and stress going into this fight. I’m just happy I got the result we came here for.
“I’m happy that I got to showcase some of my skill sets and open up. I’ve got to fight adversity in the fight again. It was a great fight, a stressful fight. That was the most technical-striking fight I’ve ever had. I got a bit antsy in the first round, and he made me pay for it.
“But honestly, I got back up, and it was like ‘I got to get back to work, change it up a little bit’. It was just a chess match from then. He was waiting for me to come in. I was waiting for him to come in.”
Whittaker concluded the contest with a bad cut above his ear, but believed his late takedown might have swayed the judges.
“I understood that it was a really close fight,” he said. “I think the second round was definitely mine; third round, fourth round could have gone either way. But I think I showed my championship-level mentality and experience in that last round - especially where it was so close to the hands in the stand-up game. Then to finish it off taking him down was a big boom in the scorecards for me.”
Whittaker said he was looking forward to getting home to spend time with his wife and children, before even contemplating what’s next. He remains the division’s No 1-ranked challenger.
“Honestly, I am championship-level,” he said. “Everyone can see that. Everyone always knows that. I wasn’t myself last fight. I believe that. Not to take anything away from [Adesanya]; he’s a great striker, but I wasn’t myself last fight.
“It was a good win. I’m a champion with the belt, without the belt. It doesn’t matter. I’m looking forward to getting back to work and just seeing how that next fight goes.”
Till (18-3-1 MMA, 6-3-1 UFC) confirmed afterwards that he blew his knee in the second round following a front kick from Whittaker, but disguised it until the end of the fight. He said he will most likely need surgery, meaning a third outing having moved up to middleweight might have to wait.
On the defeat, Till said: “I’ve never felt like this after a loss. I feel OK. He was tough. It was probably one of the toughest fights I’ve been in. It was just so stressful. It was such a chess match. Neither guy wants to throw, and when they threw they were looking to knock out.
“I caught him more than he caught me with the power, three or four times, in the first round especially. But I think it was probably 2-2 going into the fifth, and maybe the judges scored the takedown, but I was getting up every time. I don’t know how it works. Close fight. He’s a former champion. I’m up there. I’ve shown it, especially striking."
On a possible rematch, he added: “If Rob doesn’t get the title shot, I would love to go to New Zealand and fight with him. Maybe I lacked a few things we worked on in the gym. It was disappointing. But I sit here saying convincingly I’m going to be the champion. Either one could’ve been the guy tonight.
“I feel like we both won the fight. It was a clinically neat match. Going to get a bit of surgery now. I want to get back in the game. I’ll fix that, and there’s millions of fights out there for me. I’m one of the top guys in this organisation, and I’m going to continue to be.”
Elsewhere, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua defeated Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in a split decision in the co-main event to complete their trilogy with a perfect 3-0.
The fight most probably marked Nogueira’s last competitive outing. Also, Fabricio Werdum did not rule out retirement following his first-round submission victory against Alexander Gustafsson, who was debuting at heavyweight.
Updated: July 26, 2020 11:37 AM