Fighting out of Auckland, New Zealand
MMA record 23-5
Betting odds: +240
The former division champion is well rounded fighter who does his best work with blitzing footwork and explosive strikes. While he’s always primary been a striker, he’s steadily rounded out his entire mixed martial arts to because fault well rounded. Durability and cardio are generally in his favor, as he’s extremely well conditioned.
Whittaker is not the most fundamentally sound striker but he makes up for it with intangibles and athleticism. The wars and injuries have taken their toll and he’s lost a step in those departments, but he’s maintained enough to remain an elite middleweight.
His trademark combination of jab, straight right, right head-kick has stayed sharp and he still has the power to sleep anyone in the division with a variety of strikes. Whittaker has gone to three straight decisions since losing his belt, but he was able still able to hurt those opponents. He now has a less aggressive game but one that is more technically refined.
His biggest striking improvement in recent years has been the jab. It was always a strong part of his game but it’s become more of a focus now. There will often be long stretches where he simply sits back and primarily jabs, and he does it with great success. It also allows him to better control range and setup his combinations, which has been evident.
For a large chunk of his UFC career Whittaker has been a highly underrated grappler. That narrative has slowly changed over the years as his incredibly strong takedown defense has been put on display. Even when taken down, his scrambling ability and submission defense have shown to be extremely solid.
Offensively, that is a bigger questions mark. We’ve seen him attempt and even score takedowns but he’s never been particularly potent from top position. This is something he’s looked to change in recent bouts, as he’s mixed in more takedowns with his primarily striking-based approach. However, he still didn’t show anything that made me think he’s become a different fighter in that department.
Sure, Whittaker knows how to shoot, guard pass, secure dominant position and attempt submissions. But he just has not looked particularly strong or dominant in those areas. Further, the righters he’s had success with in the grappling were generally not the strongest grapplers themselves.
The wars and injuries severely concern me. Yes, Whittaker is riding a three fight win streak but he is clearly on a physical decline. That affects him offensively with areas like speed as well as defensive with traits like durability. At welterweight Whittaker’s chin was poor due to the heavy weight cut but at middleweight it was granite until the first Yoel Romero fight. Since then, Whittaker has been getting rocked left and right including brutally knocked out by the man he rematches this week.