Australia’s first UFC champion Robert Whittaker is officially set to defend his belt on home soil next February.
That will be against Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 234 which will be held at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Victoria, on Sunday, February 10. The only other bout currently scheduled for the event is Anderson Silva vs. Israel Adesanya.
In one of the more polite and respectful UFC media events in recent memory, Whittaker, Gastelum and Adesanya all featured at the first UFC 234 press conference held today at the Rod Laver Arena.
For Australians, Whittaker’s fight marks a historically significant event, and it seems the significance is just as dear to Whittaker himself.
“It means the world to me. It’s one of the greatest milestones I have in my career thus far,” Whittaker told media (via Submission Radio). “Career-wise, one of my greatest ambitions was to get the title – not that I was ever looking towards the title, it was just a milestone, it was something to do along the way. To be able to get the title and bring it back home was a remarkable achievement and to be able to defend the belt here on home soil, a hop and a skip from my backyard, is great.”
Whittaker, 27, was scheduled to defend his belt in Perth earlier this year at UFC 221, but was forced to withdraw due to a spate of injuries. But the champion is eager for a do-over.
The last time he competed in Australia was headlining UFC Fight Night 101 in Melbourne against Derek Brunson whom he knocked out in the first round. “The Reaper” said the Rod Laver Arena crowd’s energy was palpable.
“It’s not that you couldn’t block out the sound, it’s that you couldn’t block out the feeling. You could feel it in the air, and it was honestly – it’s probably one of the greatest highlights of my career thus far,” Whittaker said.
But being on top doesn’t mean that Whittaker is resting on his laurels. The Sydney resident believes he’s still yet to reach the peak of his fighting career and remains ambitious.
“I’m proud of what I’ve done. My legacy is still just beginning, though. I know I’ve done a fair bit now and I’m proud of where I’ve come from, and how I’ve held myself and how I’ve done things, but this is still just the beginning. I’m still at an age where I can still make leaps and bounds skill-wise, as well as experience-wise in terms of my fighting prowess,” he said.
“I don’t look into streaks too much. I don’t look into fights too much. I just – I wanna bring the best fighter out of me. And I believe I’ll know it when it happens. I don’t think I’m anywhere near that point yet.”
With that said, Whittaker acknowledges the challenge before him in Gastelum.
“We have very similar traits. I respect Kelvin’s abilities a lot. I think we’re both gonna go in there and we’re gonna leave our heart and souls out there, and it’s the crowd that’s really gonna benefit.”
Tickets for UFC 234 go on sale to the general public via Ticketekon Friday, December 7 at 9am (AEST).