Robert John Whittaker, (aka “The Reaper”) born 20th December, 1990 in Auckland, New Zealand, is the former UFC Middleweight Champion, currently looking to reclaim the title.
In his initial run of victories to win the championship, Whittaker amassed arguably the best resume in the middleweight division to this day.
Since losing his belt to current champion, Israel Adesanya, Whittaker has reached a new level of technical excellence. Currently riding a three-fight win streak, a rematch that will mark the biggest MMA fight in Oceania history now seems inevitable.
Whittaker’s roots in fighting were stimulated from a need to become more self-confident. Growing up in housing commission in Australia, the phrase ‘Houso’ would be used as a derogatory insult, against which Whittaker would have to defend himself.
His dad had him training karate at a local gym from the age of six for self-defense. When the gym transitioned into an MMA gym, Whittaker kept training and switched disciplines. To this day his karate influence is still clear, with Whittaker’s ability to close the distance quickly, and land devastating strikes being one of his trademarks.
Whittaker met his wife, Sofia, when they were both just 15 at a paintball tournament and they are still together, now with four children. His family remain his prime motivation.
Upon losing the belt, Whittaker took time away from the sport to be with his family, having been burnt out by the constant demands of training, injury recovery, and the pressure of holding the belt.
He attributes his recent resurgence to the stability around him, currently living with his family and siblings keeps him grounded and supported.
Whittaker first competed aged 19, at XFC MMA, then quickly moved on to Cage Fighting Championships. His first seven fights were all stoppage wins and he went on to win the CF Welterweight Championship.
Whittaker was part of ‘The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes’, an Australia vs UK team version of the reality show. The importance of being a national representative is clear from watching his time on the show.
As a lifelong Australian resident, yet being born in New Zealand with his mum’s family being Māori and Samoan, Whittaker has always made a point of trying to fully represent his heritage and roots with pride.
Whittaker won the show and arrived in the UFC as a highly touted talent. After a mixed run at welterweight, he transitioned to middleweight where he found his true home.
Whittaker went unbeaten in his run to the middleweight title, finishing four of his six fights.
His two title victories came against Yoel Romero, a former Freestyle Wrestling world champion and one of the most dangerous strikers in MMA. Part of what brought Whittaker success in these fights was his own Freestyle Wrestling background.
Whittaker had been training with the Australian national freestyle team at the time, having gone unbeaten in tournaments and actually qualifying for the Commonwealth Games. The rematch with Romero however, meant that he was unable to compete.
Outside of MMA, Whittaker does community work, visiting and supporting local youth clubs in indigenous communities in Australia. In so many ways, Robert Whittaker is someone who uses his position to lead by a positive, and respectful example.
His distinct lack of trash talk against opponents and the respect he gives is notable, and outside the cage he looks to make a positive social contribution. Intrigued by this different breed of combat cat? Well then let’s breakdown Robert “The Reaper’” Whittaker’s Top 5 MMA Finishes! (in descending order)
5. Vs. Luke Newman – TUF: The Smashes (Sept. 19, 2012)
Whittaker’s first fight on The Ultimate Fighter announced the knockout threat he brought to an international audience.
In this year, the series pitted Australian fighters against British fighters and Whittaker was all the more motivated to represent his country with pride. This fight, his first in the house, won the ‘Knockout of the Season.’
The fight begins with Newman starting strong, landing hard on Whittaker’s guard. Newman backs Whittaker up against the cage and lands a hard overhand right. As Whittaker tries to circle away, Newman lands a heavy jab and keeps pressing forward.
Whittaker suddenly stops backing up and dips forward, throwing a hard overhand right that connects flush with Newman’s chin. Newman is instantly knocked unconscious whilst Whittaker follows up with several more ground strikes to make his opponent inert before the referee steps in. Whittaker won by knockout
4. Vs. Clint Hester – UFC Fight Night 55 (Nov. 8, 2014)
Whittaker’s middleweight debut came against an experienced opponent riding a seven-fight win streak. Hester had never been finished from strikes and Whittaker had just one win in his last three fights.
In the opening seconds of round 1, Hester snaps Whittaker’s head back with a hard jab and backs Whittaker up towards the fence, then both fighters connect simultaneously with lead left hooks.
Whittaker tries to follow up with more hooks and backs Hester up after which Hester wings an overhand right then transitions straight into a single-leg takedown attempt.
Whittaker defends against the cage, then circles off, pushing down on Hester’s head to get free. Then Whittaker lands a series of jabs and outside leg kicks, controlling the range. Hester moves forward to close the distance then clinch. As Whittaker defends, Hester lands a spinning elbow that causes Whittaker’s nose to start bleeding.
As they return to the centre of the octagon, Whittaker re-establishes distance control with feints, jabs and outside leg kicks. Hester lands a body kick, and Whittaker returns with a left hook right cross that drops his opponent.
Whittaker then lands several ground strikes as Hester gets to his knees to go for a takedown which Whittaker defends. Whittaker lands more ground strikes as Hester covers up. Whittaker gets a body lock from the back as Hester gets to one knee, weighing on his opponent.
Whittaker then transitions to a double leg as Hester stands, getting the takedown and moving to half guard. Hester scoots to the fence but Whittaker pulls him back to the matt, moving to mount but in posturing to strike, allows Hester to bridge out and escape. The positions reverse, with Whittaker now playing guard, Hester lands an elbow then stands.
Round 2 begins with both fighters feinting heavily. Whittaker lands a right hook in response to a lead elbow then off-balances Hester with a leg kick followed by a stinging double jab, whilst Hester lands a dipping overhand and follows with several wild swings.
With both fighters winging hooks, Whittaker sneaks in a hard uppercut upon which Hester starts backing Whittaker up.
After several clean jabs from Whittaker, Hester backs him up to the fence and clinches. Hester goes for a single-leg takedown but Whittaker hops back and gets his leg free, then lands a jab-cross front-kick combo that has Hester backpedalling.
Whittaker lands another jab cross. Hester covers up against the cage after which Whittaker lands a hard knee that drops him. Whittaker follows with a flurry of strikes upon Hester who can only cover up. The referee steps in to call the fight by TKO at 2 minutes, 15 seconds.
This bout won the ‘Fight of the Night’ and made clear Whittaker’s punching power that effectively translated here to Middleweight.
3. Vs. Brad Tavares – UFC Fight Night 65 (May 10, 2015)
Tavares was more seasoned and coming off a big win over former Strikeforce champion Nate Marquardt.
Tavares opens with a sharp leg kick that Whittaker partially avoids. Whittaker slips a Tavares punch then counters with a left hook, whilst a Tavares leg kick gets a Whittaker jab in response.
Whittaker swarms forward with a flurry of punches, and front kicks then pivots to land a hard left hook around the guard of Tavares. The hook puts Tavares on the canvas, and he pops back up but Whittaker lands another left hook that puts him down again.
Whittaker follows up with several right hands on the ground as Tavares tries to stand. These shots put Tavares out and the referee jumps in to prevent further damage.
The fight is called by knockout for Whittaker at 4 minutes, 16 seconds. Whittaker won the ‘Performance of the Night’ for this swift and brutal finish.
2. Vs. Derek Brunson – UFC Fight Night 101 (Nov. 27, 2016)
With four, first-round finishes in a row, bringing an elite wrestling pedigree, along with dangerous knockout punches to the table, Brunson was the favourite going into this bout.
In round 1, Brunson pressures Whittaker back towards the cage in the opening minute then shoots for a double-leg takedown.
Whittaker prevents Brunson closing his grip, then circles off the cage with an uppercut on the break with several punches following up. Having backed up, Brunson moves back in and Whittaker sneaks in a lead uppercut through his guard.
Brunson keeps pressuring forward and lands a left straight with Whittaker dipping and weaving as he backs up. Brunson then again goes for the takedown against the cage, but Whittaker again controls Brunson’s left hand preventing it.
Brunson switches to strikes from the clinch and continues as Whittaker separates. Whittaker counters with a hook from the pocket that wobbles Brunson who continues to press forward to close the distance while Whittaker strikes as he moves backwards.
Whittaker covers up as Brunson unloads with wild strikes. Then Whittaker continues to circle off the cage, dipping and weaving as Brunson’s strikes become more laboured.
Brunson shoots for a takedown but Whittaker sprawls. Brunson is able to get a body lock as they return to standing but Whittaker mounts enough resistance to prevent Brunson advancing the position; is able to loosen Brunson’s grip and break clean as they return to the centre. Whittaker swarms forward with strikes, which land on Brunson’s head.
Brunson refuses to be backed up and rushes forward whereupon Whittaker lands a check left hook as he circles away that drops Brunson. Brunson stands but Whittaker follows up with several uppercuts and hooks, from the clinch and the outside. Brunson seeks to clinch but Whittaker defends.
As Brunson backs up, Whittaker follows up a jab with a head kick that decks Brunson, who stands again but is bent over double whilst covering up.
Whittaker lands several more punches to Brunson’s head that floor him again and follows up with ground strikes that Brunson can’t answer.
Referee Herb Dean steps in to end the contest as a TKO win for Whittaker. This contest earned ‘Fight of the Night’ and ‘Performance of the Night’ accolades.
1. Vs. Ronaldo Souza – UFC on Fox 24 (April 15, 2017)
Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza was the most decorated and toughest opponent Whittaker had fought to date. Jacare was an eight-time BJJ world champion, a two-time Strikeforce Middleweight Champion and had won his last two UFC fights by stoppage.
Round 1 begins with Jacare claiming the centre and Whittaker circling. Whittaker feints several times to go in, and then slides in with a lead left hook that lands.
Jacare tries to pressure to a clinch but Whittaker keeps his hands low to defend and circles back out. Whittaker lands a jab then Jacare presses Whittaker to the cage and clinches, but Whittaker gains an underhook to prevent Jacare advancing to a body lock.
Jacare then drops down to a single-leg takedown attempt, and brings Whittaker down, but is unable to get both arms free and they return to standing. Again, Jacare gets a takedown, this time with a knee tap and trip against the cage but Whittaker scoots onto his side and knees and stands back up. In doing so he gives up his back to Jacare who gets his hooks in and looks for Whittaker’s neck.
Whittaker blocks the choke and bumps Jacare off his neck to the floor. Then he uses an overhook to break from the standing clinch that Jacare seeks to establish. Jacare’s breathing now becomes more laboured, whilst his steps look heavy and plodding.
Whittaker jumps in with a jab, cross, hook combination that lands. Jacare slips then stands again, pressuring Whittaker, who then closes in with a jab, lands an uppercut then a hook that stings Jacare. Jacare begins to time Whittaker moving in, and lands two right hands as they exchange.
Jacare then push-kicks but Whittaker blocks, landing an uppercut and a body shot as Jacare closes to clinch. Whittaker lands a clean, left hook and starts to back Jacare up as round 1 ends.
Round 2 begins with both fighters contesting the centre of the octagon. Whittaker feints forward then backs up, soon after to bounce forward with a jab then a cross that drops Jacare hard. Whittaker follows with several ground strikes while trying to avoid getting trapped in Jacare’s guard. Whittaker backs off, and referee Mario Yamasaki returns Jacare to his feet.
Whittaker looks to land again but Jacare circles away then throws and misses, then shoots for a takedown but Whittaker sprawls. Whittaker steps in with a jab uppercut that staggers Jacare and continues to press his opponent who circles away.
Whittaker throws a head kick into Jacare’s circling position that lands hard and continues to step in, landing jabs and lead hooks then moving out of range. Soon after, he lands a hard lead hook then keeps pressuring, following with a jab and right head kick combination that hurts Jacare.
Taking several more shots, Jacare drops to the floor. Whittaker rains multiple unanswered ground strikes, elbows and punches. Jacare rolls over to try and return to standing but, by now, Mario Yamasaki has seen enough and steps in to call the fight for Whittaker by TKO. This bout also won the ‘Performance of the Night’.