Whittaker awaiting ‘s*** fight’ in Melbourne
Australia's Robert Whittaker will finally get the home title defence he deserves when he takes on Kelvin Gastelum in a middleweight bout at Rod Laver Arena.
Whittaker will meet the American fourth-ranked contender in the UFC 234 headline act on February 10, topping a card also featuring exciting New Zealander Israel Adesanya against legendary fighter Anderson Silva.
Each will be hungry for success but none more so than Whittaker, whose last fight was a non-title stoush after opponent Youl Romero missed weight.
The 27-year-old Sydneysider said the chance to get back in the octagon on home soil "meant the world to him".
But it also comes with ticket problems.
"When I fight at home, 700 cousins come out of nowhere," he said. "I try to palm them off to my wife ... it's a s***-fight.
"To be able to get the title and bring it back home was remarkable.
"To be able to defend the belt on home soil, a hop and a skip from my backyard is great." The bout will be Whittaker's first defence, since claiming the title in July last year over Romero, and first fight in Australia since November 2016. He anticipates another sold-out crowd of more than 13,000, and the pressure that brings.
"The last event I had at Rod Laver Arena, it's not that you couldn't block out the sound, but you couldn't block out the feeling," he said. "The feeling was in the air.
"It's about trying not to let your emotions get away with anything or over commit.
"It was one of the greatest highlights in my career."
Opponent Gastelum made the long flight to square off with Whittaker on Monday afternoon but declined to trash talk the belt holder.
"Rob's a respectable guy. I'm not one of those obnoxious guys that likes to start drama," he said.
"This has been a long time in the making for me.
"I'm excited for this opportunity.
"This is a once in a lifetime and I'm going to make the most of it ... I'm a soldier and I'm going to keep on soldiering through."
Adesanya, unbeaten in 15 fights, said he was eager for a chance to rumble with Silva - even if the Brazilian's no-show meant he'll have to wait before meeting the legend.
"I know this is real and I'm living it but it hasn't really sunken in yet," he said.
"I was looking forward to being across from him and sizing him up."