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Robert Whittaker on accepting replacement bout against Kelvin Gastelum: ‘I kind of owe a fight to him anyway, right?

Former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker is taking his change of opponent in stride.

Last week it was announced that Paulo Costa was forced to withdraw from his scheduled bout with Whittaker next month due to illness and it didn’t take long for the UFC to book a replacement opponent. Almost immediately the UFC offered Whittaker a fight with eighth-ranked Kelvin Gastelum and the former champion says that even though he wasn’t happy about Costa’s withdrawal, there was no reason not to take the fight with Gastelum.

“I found out through my manager and actually through my coach,” Whittaker told Submission Radio. “And it’s just, my initial OCD flared up, cause I hate last minute changes and I hate things like this changing. And I was really upset for a little bit. But I got over it. The work’s been done, the camp’s been great. I’m fit, and the idea of not fighting on the date is just silly. I’ve got to earn my break, I’ve got to earn some money, I’ve got to do my job. So, I’m going to get in there and I’m gonna do that.”

Whittaker accepting the short-notice replacement is a testament to his fighting spirit because the man affectionately dubbed “Bobby Knuckles” could have just as easily opted to sit out. Whittaker is currently the number-one ranked contender in the division and with champion Israel Adesanyarecently having failed in a move up to light heavyweight, Whittaker could have chosen to sit out and wait for a title shot. Whittaker, however, says that was not something he was interested in.

“It’s something that could have been a possibility, but Adesanya just fought, and who knows who he wants to fight next,” Whittaker said. “I just don’t want to wait that long. I want to fight, I want to get better, I want to earn (money and) do my job. I want to get in there and work. And yeah, I’ve got a lot of things on. I don’t want to waste time waiting around. I hate that.”

Now, Whittaker will face Gastelum and it’s a fight that has some history. Whittaker was scheduled to defend his middleweight title against Gastelum at UFC 234 back in 2019 but was forced out of the event just hours beforehand when a hernia caused him to need emergency surgery. Instead, two months later Gastelum fought Adesanya for an interim title and lost a decision, setting up Whittaker to fight Adesanya and closing the door on Whittaker-Gastelum, at least until now.

“There weren’t a lot of options because a lot of the middleweight division is tied up and also, the ones that aren’t tied up just don’t make sense,” Whittaker said when discussing why Gastelum was the right opponent. “So, Gastelum really was the only one that was a potential possibility. I kind of owe a fight to him anyway, right? So, it’s a good fight…

“I think he’s one of my hardest fights to date. I think he is a very good fighter. Yeah, I think people look too much into his recent losses and it takes away from how good he actually is. That’s the game when you’re at the top of the food chain, at the top of the charts. Everyone is a hard fight and they’re just gonna give you more and more hard fights. You can’t win them all.”

Unfortunately for Whittaker, even if he does win them all it still might not be enough. Though a win over Gastelum should lock up a rematch with Adesanya for the former middleweight champion, “The Last Stylebender” has shown a general disinterest in that fight and has instead said that if Darren Till beats Marvin Vettori in their upcoming bout, Till will get the next middleweight title shot, despite Whittaker beating Till last year. It’s a situation Whittaker clearly isn’t happy about but its also one he says he’s not going to spend time worrying over. If he keeps doing his job, eventually the rematch will come.

“Yeah, it is what it is,” Whittaker said. “All the power’s in Adesanya’s hands at the moment. So, it is what it is. I just gotta win the next fight, worry about it after.

“He did beat me and he’s the champ. The power’s in his hands. I’m not gonna dwell on it too much. All I’m gonna do is just keep my head down, focus on that next fight and try to get that win, and just keep winning. That’s goal. That’s what I’m doing. I’m not worrying about too much else.”

As reported on the MMA Fighting website