Luke Rockhold And Robert Whittaker Relieved To See The Middleweight Division ‘Back On Track’
UFC 221 main event combatants Robert Whittaker and Luke Rockhold will be punching each other in the face on Feb. 11, but for the minute at least, they’re united in the fact that they’re both relieved to see the middleweight title picture pick up steam again.
Both Rockhold and Whittaker spent the year in limbo uncertain as when or if they would ever get to challenge for the unified UFC middleweight title. With Michael Bisping and Georges St-Pierre settling their differences at UFC 217 and with the Canadian subsequently vacating the belt last week, things are getting back to a state of normality at 185-pounds.
Speaking today at a UFC 221 press conference in Perth, both fighters admitted that the last 12-months had been a frustrating time.
“It feels right,” Rockhold said bluntly. “I’ve got some skin in the game and I’ve put myself in the position. It sucks to see what they’ve done with everything, but I’m just glad we’re back on the track. I said that Whittaker is the true champion for some time now. I’m excited to get in there and mix things up. It’s going to be a fight man.”
Whittaker agreed with Rockhold’s assessment on the matter:
“With the UFC, anything can happen,” he said. “There was no clear cut matchup for me at any point in the last six months so I’m just happy to have a matchup. I’m happy to know that Georges as stepped down, that I’ve taken the title, and that I’m going to defend it come February against Luke. It’s just good to know what we’re doing. I’m a very objective driven bloke. Having a goal in mind and having something to do is very important to me.”
With that now all out the way, Rockhold and Whittaker will now fight for the unified title on Feb. 11 and there’s a lot of respect between the two fighters. The former champion Rockhold broke down the fight and gave Whittaker only a slim chance of overcoming the problems he’s going to throw at him.
“I watched him out here when he made his first venture up to 85 and he fought on my card in Sydney,” Rockhold said. “He came in explosive and powerful and he carried the weight well, that’s what he does. He’s got great hands and he’s got power and he covers the distance well. It’s up to me to keep pushing him outside of that gap and don’t let him play my range. If I pick him off on the outside he’s going to [look] to close the distance. The problem is that if he closes it too much he’s back in my world again. I think he’s got a small room.”
The champion responded instantly and in good humour:
“Sounds like fun,” Whittaker responded laughing. “Like he said, we’re not playing games out there. It’s a game of inches and it’s do or die out there. Yeah, this is what makes it so thrilling to watch and this is why the stadium is going to be sold out. The pay-per-views will be through the roof because it’s a game of inches and there’s a lot of tactics and strategies involved. I don’t think he needs the inspiration to take the belt. Like he said, he’s been the champ before and he knows that taste.
“He’s done it before and I really look forward to getting the best out of Rockhold and testing myself. I think that’s the goal of every fighter, to keep chasing the limits and pushing those boundaries. He’s very high calibre and I just got to be aware. He’s going to get the respect he deserves. It’s going to be a hard fight, I’m sure he knows this, it’s going to be a hard fight. We’re going to put on a good show trust me.”