As Kiwi-born Australian mixed martial artist, and current UFC middleweight champion, ROB WHITTAKER prepares to defend his title at UFC 234 in Melbourne this month, we get him geared up for the fight of his life…
We’ve got you geared up in some high-quality garb for this MAXIM fashion feature, Rob. Do you consider yourself a bit of a fashionista?
Not really, but I do love a sharp suit. My wife Sofia has great taste though and she double checks me so I don’t leave the house looking like an idiot.
How would you describe your fashion style?
Training gear or classy, sharp suits. There isn’t much in between for me but most of the time I like to keep it casual.
What do you look for in a suit?
Nothing better than a beautifully tailored suit. I love greys and blues. No ties!
What clothing would we mostly find you wearing day to day?
Training gear almost always or, if not, then T-shirts and shorts. I probably change, on average, three times a day depending on what training session I’m doing.
How did you get into MMA and subsequently the UFC?
My dad put me into karate lessons when I was eight and it went from there. I progressed into Jiu-Jitsu, Hapkido, wrestling and boxing and over time brought it all together and started going into MMA contests. Eventually I went on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) and a contract with the UFC followed.
When did you know you wanted to be an MMA athlete?
I’ve always considered myself a martial artist and never really thought about being a professional until winning TUF.
If you weren’t a UFC fighter what would you be doing?
I really enjoy coaching MMA and my involvement in Gracie Aboriginal Pathways program so I would probably take that further.
You’re known as “The Reaper” and “Bobby Knuckles” – how did these nicknames come about?
The fans (or commentators) gave me Bobby Knuckles and I chose The Reaper. There is no real story behind The Reaper other than I like it. Either nickname is fine with me.
Take us through your usual training regime.
On average I do three two-hour sessions a day and have very little down time. I treat my training like a job and am working nine to five, seven days a week.
What type of mental strength is needed to be a UFC fighter?
Mental strength is everything. Fight night is one thing but the fight is won long before that. What you put into training on a daily basis is what you get out of it and it takes persistence and mental fortitude to do that day in and day out. I aim to improve something every single day of my life.
How do you prepare for a big fight in the Octagon?
My training is key to feeling prepared. Every fight is 50/50 at the top level but if I know I’ve done everything possible in my preparation then I’ll be confident. Stacking the chips in my favour is all I can do.
What goes through your mind before and during a fight?
Just before the fight I get very nervous but once I hear my walk-out music and I enter the arena my mind focuses. I concentrate only on my game plan, listen to my coaching team and deal with whatever unfolds before me.
What’s it like to win a fight?
The immediate feeling is relief more than anything and the hope is that I have done my team, family and country proud. I don’t want to let anyone down.
Describe the feeling when you’ve either knocked out an opponent or won by submission?
I’ll take a win any way I can get it.
You are the current UFC middleweight champion – describe how you felt right after the fight to win this title had finished?
I felt massive relief that I got the W. The belt and title is a nice cherry on the top but winning the title is just another milestone, it’s not everything. I have many goals I want to achieve and as long as I give my best every time then I’ll be happy. Winning or losing a belt is not that important.
In winning this fight you became the first Australian/New Zealand-born fighter to hold a UFC title. What does this mean to you?
I’m very proud of that and to have the Whittaker name etched in history. This was always one of my goals, so to have achieved it is a nice feeling.
What’s it like to be a champion?
Nothing has changed. I still train every day, play with my kids and do everything I always did before. Champion is just a title and means I have a target on my back. It makes me the one guy in the division that everyone wants to punch in the face.
Your next fight is on February 10 where you will defend your title against Kevin Gastelum at UFC 234. Have you done anything different to prepare for this match up?
Not really. I’m focusing on my skills, strength and conditioning and just aiming to be the best version of myself on fight night. Of course we watch videos and study him but if you focus too much on your opponent then you are not focusing on yourself.
How do you think this fight will go down?
Every fight is 50/50 at this level and this one is no different. Kelvin is a young, tough guy with many skills and not many weaknesses. This will be the toughest fight I’ve had yet and I’m really excited to get in there and test myself.
You don’t do much trash talking outside of the octagon. Why is that?
It’s just not who I am. I prefer to be respectful to everyone and to let my fists to the talking in the Octagon.
What advice do you have for our readers who want to get into the UFC?
Success is an attitude and if you have a dream then follow it. Get a great team around you and train harder than anyone else. Aim to be better every day in and out of the training. Then you’re more than halfway there.
Finally, being a NZ-born Aussie (your mum is a Kiwi and your dad an Aussie), who do you barrack for when the Wallabies play the All Blacks?
I’m an Aussie but also very proud of my NZ heritage. I love both teams and the only time I don’t barrack for the AB’s is when they are playing the Wallabies. Go the ANZACs!
NAME: Robert John Whittaker
BORN: December 20, 1990 in South Auckland, NZ
LIVES: Sydney NSW.
AKA: The Reaper / Bobby Knuckles
PHOTOGRAPHED BY JACK RITCHIE
INTERVIEW BY SANTI PINTADO
STYLED BY ADRIANA DIB
ALL WARDROBE BY JOE BLACK / JOEBLACK.COM.AU
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