Robert Whittaker is willing to accept a $5 million superfight with IBF cruiserweight champion Jai Opetaia, but concedes his “biggest hurdle” will be receiving the green light from UFC boss Dana White.
Speaking this week from Noosa, where he and his young family are currently holidaying, Whittaker confirmed his interest in a crossover bout with Opetaia, Australia’s newest boxing champ.
The 31-year-old also revealed he is currently nursing two broken toes, suffered on his way to that emphatic UFC Paris triumph over Italian Marvin Vettori earlier this month.
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While the win has Whittaker again chasing a trilogy bout with middleweight king Israel Adesanya, the Sydneysider confirmed he would happily “swing” at Opetaia first – especially given the deal offered to his agent Titus Day sits around $2 million.
Yet while reports have suggested Whittaker has just one fight left on his UFC deal, certain contract stipulations could keep Australia’s first UFC champ locked down until late in 2023 – meaning he will need permission from White to take any crossover bout.
While Irish megastar Conor McGregor was allowed to throw down against Floyd Mayweather in 2017, the famed US promoter has more recently shown little interest in having stars like Francis Ngannou and Kumaru Usman switch sports.
“So while I would love to box, the biggest hurdle is my contract,” Whittaker conceded.
“I’d have to get everything okayed by the big boss.
“But if Jai and myself are both getting paid big bucks, yeah, we can swing at each other.
“Although honestly, I quite like him.
“Jai and I have worked together before, sparred together … and let me tell you he can go. So I’d have to knuckle down to get one over him.
“But we can fight for the right money.”
Apart from getting the OK from White, Whittaker’s immediate future also depends heavily on the upcoming UFC 281 showdown between Adesanya and Brazilian Alex Pereira.
Should Pereira win the middleweight crown at Madison Square Garden on November 13, Whittaker insists he should then get first shot at the new champ early in 2023.
“I would hope to get straight in there next, yes,” he said of a Pereira win. “I believe that’s my due.
“But it wouldn’t blow my mind if they give Adesanya the rematch first. He’s a UFC cash cow and I’m sure they want to keep it going.”
Elsewhere, there has also been talk of Whittaker facing a left field opponent, like welterweight stars Khamzat Chimaev and Colby Covington.
Only recently, Chimaev said he would rather train with Whittaker than fight him, an offer the Australian has since accepted.
Asked about the breakout Chechnyan star, who remains undefeated as a professional, Whittaker said: “He and I are amicable, so I’m not looking to fight him.
“And let’s be honest, if you’re trying to build a fighter you don’t put them against me.
“I’ve deflated the UFC’s tyres too many times … they won’t want to do that.”
“Doesn’t deserve a fight with me,” Whittaker cackled. “But I’ll smash Colby for a couple of extra bucks. Do it for fun.”
‘YOU HAVE TO CRACK A COUPLE OF EGGS’
Still on Whittaker, and the Australian revealed he broke two toes on his right foot in the second round of his win over Marvin Vettori.
Quizzed on the injuries, the fighter dubbed Bobby Knuckles said it was a kick aimed towards the body of Vettori – but which collected the Italian’s elbow — that broke both his middle toe, and the one to its immediate right.
“I know the exact kick too,” Whittaker laughed.
“Oh, I heard it,” he continued. “When your toes hit an opponent’s elbow full tilt … yeah, you know.”
Despite the injury, Whittaker insists he wasn’t in too much discomfort and knew he had to keep landing with the right foot.
“I threw the kick a couple of times in the first round and could see it hurting him,” he explained.
“And I knew if I was hurting him at mid range, Vettori would have to address that — or it was going to be fed to him all day.
“So he started bringing his elbows in. Which means they aren’t by his head.
“So that’s when I started throwing the head kick.”
Yet somewhere in between, his toes broke.
“Although sometimes to make that omelette,” Whittaker laughed, “you have to crack a couple of eggs”.
So as for any lingering issues?
“Only when the kids step on it,” he said. “Which on this holiday is all the time.”
PEDRO’S BRUTAL PREPARATION
Tyson Pedro has revealed how he caught Covid, passed it to his baby daughter, and then lost his grandfather during an incredibly emotional build up to his win at UFC 278.
Arriving back in Australia on Wednesday, Pedro has spent the past month travelling Europe with wife Rosie, mum Karran and daughter Giselle, who recently turned one.
The getaway followed the Sydneysider’s outstanding win over American Harry Hunsucker in August, his second first round stoppage since returning to the Octagon after more than three years on the sidelines.
Yet if returning from three major knee surgeries isn’t dramatic enough, Pedro has now revealed how, six weeks out from UFC 278, and two days after arriving in Auckland to train with Israel Adesanya at City Kick Boxing, he caught Covid.
Which was a problem.
“Because apart from missing the first two weeks of camp, I then passed it on to my family who were there helping me settle in,” he says.
“It was tough.
“Getting everyone sick, I felt terrible. But thankfully my little girl wasn’t too bad so I was really grateful.”
Shortly after leaving isolation however, the fighter then learned his beloved grandfather, Bruce Porter, had passed away, having suffered a heart attack while on a caravanning holiday.
“We were really close, too,” Pedro said.
“So while I’d already missed two weeks of camp, I arranged to get back to Australia and attend the funeral. But then flying home, my plane ran out of fuel in the air and had to be diverted.
“It meant that while in the air, I was then trying to book another flight to Sydney.
“I made it a few hours before the funeral and then, straight after, headed back to CKB.”
Despite his emotional preparation, Pedro secured a convincing first round win.
“But you have to get through it because your opponent, he doesn’t care what’s going on,” the fighter said. “I’m just grateful I could get out there and put on a show.”
Arriving back into Sydney with his family on Wednesday evening, Pedro was straight back into the gym and training on Thursday morning.
AUSSIE’S BIG SHOT
Jack Jenkins, not so long ago, was pouring beers inside a small town pub and being told he couldn’t fight.
At the time, the Aussie featherweight was on a run of two straight losses.
“And a lot of people knew,” he recalls.
“The regulars would come in every afternoon and say ‘you’ve lost two, time to give it away’. Or they would keep asking me when I was going to quit and get a trade.
“There was even this one bloke, a guy who thought he knew a bit about fighting, who was always telling me ‘mate, you’ll never beat the Brazilians or the Yanks’.
“I just remember thinking ‘f… you’. I refused to give up.”
Now 29, Jenkins has this week arrived in Las Vegas to make final preparations for his shot at the next instalment of Dana White’s Contender Series on Tuesday, September 27 (AEST).
The Australian featherweight, who is currently on a run of six straight wins, will face Freddy Emiliano Linares, who hailing from Ecuador is 9-1 as a pro and dubbed ‘Predator’.
“And I’m still carrying that chip on my shoulder,” says the former barman now on the cusp of a UFC contract. “All those people who said I would never make it – watch me.”
REASON BEHIND AUSSIE’S WITHDRAWAL
Jamie Mullarkey’s shock withdrawal from UFC 280 is said to have been because of a serious bout of Covid. The Central Coast lightweight not only got sick during fight camp, but then had ongoing symptoms bad enough to leave him with no option but to pull out of his fight against Dagestani fighter Magomed Mustafaev
Undefeated Aussie boxer Tim Tszyu is currently training at famed MMA gym, Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand. A popular base for the likes of Alex Volkanovski and Tai Tuivasa, Tszyu has chosen the gym in a bid to vary up his preparations for his January world title showdown with Jermell Charlo. So happy has Tszyu been with the work he’s getting done at Tiger, the fighter yesterday extended his stay for another week