How Tim Tszyu prepared Whittaker for UFC rematch
Two years ago, Australian fighter Robert Whittaker suffered an abdominal hernia the evening before his UFC middleweight title fight against American Kelvin Gastelum, forcing a shock withdrawal.
It was a freak injury, robbing MMA fans of what would have been a thrilling contest at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena.
And later this month, Whittaker will finally get a chance to put things right.
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The 30-year-old will face Gastelum in Las Vegas on Sunday, April 18th after another late withdrawal forced a change in personnel.
Whittaker was meant to come up against Paulo Costa, but the Brazilian fighter recently pulled out because a severe case of flu-impeded preparation.
“Initially I was upset (Costa withdrew). My OCD flared up a bit to be honest – all those last-minute changes got to me,” Whittaker told news.com.au.
“But I feel like it’s a fight that I owe (Gastelum).
“I’m just thankful he filled in the spot because all the work in the camp was done, and that’s the time I wanted to fight, so the fact that he could fill in was really fortunate for me.”
Robert Whittaker punches Darren Till.Source:AFP
The Octagon inside the UFC Apex arena in Las Vegas is renowned for being marginally smaller than other MMA venues, subsequently encouraging fast-paced combat.
“It’ll definitely impact the fight – the pace of it and the dynamic of the fight, the feel of the fight,” Whittaker said.
“We’re both going to be in each other’s space a lot more, which is obviously dangerous for two strikers like us, and it opens to field to a lot of different thing.
“There’s a lot of places I can take this fight and lead this fight, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
While preparing for his next UFC contest, Whittaker has been sparring with Australian boxing star Tim Tszyu, who trumped Irishman Dennis Hogan in Newcastle this week.
“I didn’t manage to watch it because I was putting my kids to bed, but I watched the highlight after,” Whittaker said.
“He looked amazing, didn’t me? He was so prepared … he just looked phenomenal.”
Tim Tszyu and Robert Whittaker sparring session.Source:Supplied
Tszyu is renowned as one of Australia’s best boxers, and Whittaker found the training sessions were particularly beneficial for his reaction time.
“My eyes are one of the major things that I benefited from it … because he punches very fast and he’s in your face a lot,” Whittaker said.
“Being able to work that cardio with the pressure that he puts on, as well as my eyes and reaction time, with the speed which he brings on.
“To be able to work with him in my stand-up and my hands was such a good resource.”
Whittaker has been outspoken about his mental health since losing the UFC middleweight title to New Zealand’s Israel Adesanya in 2019.
But if an opportunity arose for him to contest for the belt again, Whittaker’s adamant he’ll be better prepared than last time.
“I’ve evolved as fighter, and I think primarily my head’s in a different space from when I fought him the first time,” Whittaker said.
“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I have a really good balance now in my life, and I’m on top of the world.”
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