UFC 254: Robert Whittaker at 'max-level motivation' to beat Jared Cannonier in Abu Dhabi

Former champion and middleweight’s No 1-ranked contender takes on No 3 challenger in title eliminator at Flash Forum

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Former champion Robert Whittaker says he’s at “max-level motivation” to defeat Jared Cannonier in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, irrespective of the fact a win seals a rematch with current belt-holder Israel Adesanya.

The middleweight’s No 1-ranked contender takes on the No 3 challenger in the penultimate bout at UFC 254 at Flash Forum, with UFC president Dana White already labelling it a title eliminator.

Whittaker, 29, held the championship gold last year, but was beaten by Adesanya in their history-making clash in Australia.

The defeat, a first in more than five years, prompted Whittaker to take time away from the sport, and led to the postponement of his match-up against Cannonier in March.

However, Whittaker returned with a bang in Abu Dhabi in July, prevailing against Darren Till on points to bring down the curtain on the inaugural Fight Island.

The New Zealand-born Australian cut a relaxed figure during the pre-event media day on Yas Island on Tuesday night, but left little doubt he was fired up for this weekend's challenge.

“Firstly, I don’t need any more motivation to beat this dude other than the fact he’s trying to beat me up,” Whittaker told reporters. “I’m at max-level motivation; it’s like you can’t rile me up to defend myself any better.

“And two, maybe I [mislead with what I’m saying], I do care. I want to win; I’m going to do everything in there to win. It’s do-or-die for me when I get in there.

“I go in there, I switch on and I’m going to try and kill this dude. I’m willing to put my body on the line to do that. But I’m not obsessed with the result; the result doesn't really matter.

"It’s about me getting in there and doing my best. All I know is I’m going to go in there and try to rip his face off on the weekend.”

Whittaker, who with the victory against Till moved to 21-5 in mixed martial arts, said he is in a much different head space than when he was supposed to originally meet Cannonier at UFC 248, a period in which he conceded he was suffering from burnout.

Cannonier has not fought in more than a year – he actually picked up an injury two weeks before UFC 248 – but remains a serious threat to Whittaker's early resurgence.


Adesanya beats Costa: gallery from UFC 253


“I’m just going to do what I do; I’m made for this,” Whittaker said. “Jared right now has the biggest threat level of anyone because he’s the dude I have to fight. I’ve had hard fights and I’m expecting a very hard fight in Jared. Jared’s a hard dude.

"I’m not sleeping on his skill set, I’m not sleeping on his power. He can beat me; I could lose. But I don’t think I will. He’s very tough, he’s very powerful, he has knockout power and he’s resilient. He never goes away.

"Honestly, I just think I’m better across the board. I can take the fight to wherever I want it to go. I can lead this dance, I can sting him, I can knock him out. I can do anything I want. And I have 15 minutes to do that, which is better than 25. I’m looking forward to it.”

Adesanya, meanwhile, defended his belt last month against Paulo Costa at UFC 253 in Abu Dhabi and immediately said he expects Cannonier next, predicting that he would "destroy" Whittaker.

Yet Whittaker doesn't think Adesanya needs to offer a rematch should he in fact triumph on Saturday.

“I don’t think anyone owes anybody anything,” he said. “I’m trying to fight Jared right now, I’m not really thinking about it, at all. Whatever he wants to do he can do. He can fight anyone. I don’t care.

"Honestly, I just want to take this fight, go there and do my best and go home, cruise out … enjoy Christmas."