While Robert Whittaker first burst onto the UFC landscape as a welterweight, he can definitely make some major strides in the 185-pound division with a victory this weekend against Uriah Hall. The middleweight showdown looms as an exciting main card offering at UFC 193 in Australia.
Whittaker is the former welterweight winner of TUF: The Smashes. However, he decided to make the move up in weight after going just 3-2 during his 170-pound tenure. That included back-to-back losses to Court McGee and Stephen Thompson. With the mixed results and the weight-cut taking a toll, Whittaker has rejuvenated his career while campaigning as a middleweight. “The Reaper” has quickly catapulted into a No. 14 ranking and is currently riding a three-fight win streak. He’s proven himself to be a strong closer with 12 of his 14 career victories coming inside the distance.
The New Zealand-born Australian has looked like a completely different fighter than the one who was blasted out by “Wonderboy” in the first-round of their clash at UFC 170. He made a spectacular middleweight debut by stopping Clint Hester in the second-round of a highly entertaining slugfest. That performance netted a Fight of the Night bonus. Whittaker would follow up that strong effort by destroying the usually durable Brad Tavares in just 44 seconds at Fight Night 65 to garner a Performance of the Night reward. The blitzing of the tough Hawaiian is all the more impressive given that Tavares has been the only man to take monstrous middleweight contender Yoel Romero the distance during his perfect 6-0 UFC tenure.
It’s apparent that matchmakers were impressed by Whittaker’s recent performances as the 24-year-old was originally matched up against Octagon mainstay Michael Bisping for the massive event at Etihad Stadium. Unfortunately, “The Count” was forced out of the contest because of an elbow injury that would eventually require surgery. Bisping would’ve been a much different type of opponent for Whittaker as he relies on his volume striking and experience to get the job done these days. Bisping’s only finish since 2011 was a brutal beatdown of Cung Le at Fight Night 48 in Macau.
Whittaker will definitely have plenty of support from his Australian brethren in what looms as a very tough test in Melbourne against an electrifying striker. “Prime Time” is finally starting to show some of the promise that had been on display during Season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter. Even though Hall would lose in the final against massive underdog Kelvin Gastelum, his explosive knockouts were the talk of that season on the long-running reality show.
After struggling to find his form during his Octagon tenure, Hall is finally living up to the hype. His last performance was a sensational knockout of Gegard Mousasi. It marked the first-time that the iron-chinned Mousasi had been stopped via strikes in his 45-fight career. Thanks to that significant triumph Hall is holding down the no. 10-spot in the latest rankings.
This weekend represents a major opportunity for Whittaker to make a big statement. His power has translated well to middleweight, and he relies on his solid boxing skills and punching precision. Whittaker’s left hook has proven to be a major weapon and he should find a willing combatant in Hall, whose confidence level is sky-high at the moment. A contest between the two talented strikers could be a dark horse when it comes to Fight of the Night contenders.
It’ll be interesting to see whether Whittaker’s pressure and volume can offset Hall’s dangerous and unorthodox striking techniques. If Whittaker is able to continue his triumphant way, he will have arrived as a key figure within the 185-pound landscape. A top-10 spot hangs in the balance if he’s able to end Hall’s recent run of success.