When Robert Whittaker returns to action, it will be on his own terms.
The good news for fans of “The Reaper” is that his recent withdrawal from UFC 248 was apparently not due to a major injury or a family health crisis; what is unfortunate is that what Whittaker faces leaves him with no clear timetable for a return.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, the former UFC middleweight champion revealed that his current hiatus was due to his realization that he was “completely exhausted” after competing at the highest level of MMA during most of the past decade. Whittaker said reality hit him hard as he trained in the Wanda Dunes in Sydney, Australia on Christmas Day last year.
“I just stopped,” said Whittaker. “So I stood there asking” what am I doing? “. It was Christmas day. My family was elsewhere.
“This moment is when everything has crashed. “
Whittaker has been watching since his victory The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes in 2012, first as a welterweight, then climbing to 185 pounds where he started a dominant race which resulted in becoming an interim middleweight champion (later elevated to undisputed status) with a unanimous decision to win Yoel Romero at UFC 213.
With nine straight wins and an undefeated run from 2014 to 2018, it certainly didn’t look like anything was wrong with Whittaker. However, the 29-year-old spoke openly about managing depression in the past and explained that the stress of missing birthdays, weddings and even funerals was starting to weigh heavily on him.
“It was crazy,” said Whittaker. “And every time I missed an event, or had to leave early, every time I trained until Easter, or ran the Wanda dunes on another Christmas day, everyone got hit.
“Whenever it was another stroke, another stroke, another stroke … I was completely exhausted. “
“And when I got back to the car afterwards, I thought that what I was doing was not normal,” said Whittaker, referring to his fateful day on the dunes. “That I couldn’t go on like this. So after I got home, I phoned my team directly, who was in Wanda with me, and said, “Everything is paused until I figure out how to stop feeling this.” ” “
Whittaker said his move to middleweight in 2014 coincided with an intensified training program that produced incredible results in exchange for personal sacrifice. Together with his wife Sofia, Whittaker is responsible for raising three children and caring for a younger brother and sister.
Finding a way to balance the two proved increasingly difficult for the UFC champion.
“I sacrificed everything,” said Whittaker. “My team came up with several plans that I followed. And because it worked, I just continued. But you can’t keep doing this forever. You can not. ”
“I was just not at home,” he added.
Whittaker points to his second fight with Romero, a split decision victory for Whittaker who has seen him badly shaken repeatedly, as a moment that puts things in perspective. He suffered a fractured right hand in this fight, one of several injuries that have limited Whittaker’s cage appearances in recent years.
March 7 was supposed to see Whittaker face upward candidate Jared Cannonier on March 7, but the fight was canceled for undisclosed reasons due to Whittaker’s withdrawal and he later issued an apologetic statement. At the time, he did not provide any details on why he chose to withdraw.
Revealing his problems was not an option at the time given his schedule.
“You can’t say” hey, maybe I’m exhausted, “” said Whittaker. “As soon as a fight is over, you have another fight for the current title. So, negative thoughts, you block them. You bite your mouth guard and work. And physically, we were training on an intellectual level, with loads and spreadsheets, lighter sessions that involved stretching.
“But again, mentally, I was exhausted. And you can only do this for so long before you find yourself in a fight below your best mind. ”
Whittaker’s last fight saw him surrender the middleweight title to Israel Adesanya at UFC 243 last October, a fight that ended with Whittaker ending in strikes in the second round. He thinks he could have performed better, noting, “I just wasn’t myself. “
As for the rumor that her absence had something to do with donating bone marrow to one of her daughters, Whittaker doesn’t know where it came from.
Shortly after Whittaker’s retirement from UFC 248, UFC president Dana White defended the decision, citing Whittaker as “completely selfless and, to the bottom, a good human being.” Responding to these comments, Whittaker reiterated that he and the UFC were on the same page and that the rumor about bone marrow donation was false.
“I did not speak directly with Dana, but the UFC knew why I had withdrawn,” said Whittaker. “I love to fight and it’s something I’m good at. But you can’t keep fighting like I was trying. ”
“All of my kids were fine,” added Whittaker. ” They are fine. “
Now, it’s just a matter of Whittaker righting the ship and finding the time to do the things that are normal for most family men who don’t have to worry about winning cage fights. That means cutting back on training for now and paying more attention to your kids at the weekend.
“And not having these sessions means I can do things on Saturday night too,” said Whittaker. “Same thing I play now with the kids late Sunday afternoon rather than being completely spent.
“The changes I’ve made will really change my life. I don’t train for exhaustion every day, I guess you can say I live. ”