REIGNING Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight champion and Sydney’s Rob Whittaker reckons Perth might be his good-luck charm.
“I’ve been here a few times and I’ve actually fought here twice in MMA (mixed martial arts) and won,” Whittaker said.
“Maybe Perth’s my lucky state.
“I feel honoured, absolutely honoured, to be able to be a part of the first UFC event here, part of the first pay-per-view and part of the headline.
“To fight in Australia is my highest dream, and I’ve done that multiple times now, but to headline a card here is just great.”
Whittaker will be the main event at UFC 221 at Perth Arena on February 11 opposite American and #2 UFC middleweight Luke Rockhold after a four-year WA ban on cage-fighting was lifted on June 6.
In a surprising turn of events last Friday, New Zealand-born Whittaker was handed the middleweight UFC belt when then-champion Canadian Georges St-Pierre relinquished the title citing medical reasons.
“It was a bit of shock (when I heard about Georges) but sort of not,” Whittaker said.
“I didn’t think he would really fight me, it was just a feeling I had, but I didn’t think it would happen so quickly though.
“Georges is one of the best mixed martial artists in the world and it would have definitely been a hard fight but, in saying that, I would have been a hard fight for him.
“You could see the weight difference definitely affected his performance.”
At the time of his reign as middleweight champion, St-Pierre had gone up a weight class, beating England’s Michael Bisping at UFC 217 to claim the middleweight title while Whittaker was interim champion and out on injuries to his left knee.
Those injuries happened in a brutal fight in July during UFC 213 against Cuban Yoel Romero, during which Whittaker sustained a grade 2 medial tear and on which he fought for a solid 20 minutes to eventually claim victory.
Whittaker was only in his first round against Yomero when a leg kick from the Cuban left the Aussie returning to his corner on the break saying, according to UFC commentator Joe Rogan: “My left knee’s f**ked”.
“It was hard,” Whittaker said.
“In the second round I was really thinking, ‘How can I do this? My knee’s stuffed and I’m already disadvantaged’ but there’s a point where there’s nothing left but to either give up or fight.
“And I’m glad in the heat of the moment I fought and I did what I needed to do.”
Whittaker said despite going into the momentous bout at Perth Arena next year with an eight-fight win streak behind him, he gave that little thought.
“The reason I’ve got so far and that I’ve done so much now is because I take it one fight at a time,” he said.
“My sights are set on Rockhold and he’s a previous champ; a tough guy and a previous champ for reason.
“I’m going to give his skill set the respect it deserves and the respect I give all my opponents.
“But I’m going to come as the best Rob Whittaker that the world has ever seen.”
The first presale tickets for February 11’s UFC 221 at Perth Arena go on sale today at 1pm AWST to UFC Fight Club members.