Gain not fame to drive Whit­taker

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - SPORT - NICK WALSHAW

JEFF Fenech be­lieves the Aus­tralian Box­ing Hall of Fame may soon need a shake-up.

Per­haps an ad­di­tional wing. Or a new name. Maybe add a com­bat cat­e­gory.

“Be­cause when it comes to Robert Whit­taker, I know we’ll be want­ing to put him some­where,” three-divi­sion world cham­pion Fenech de­clared.

The great­est boxer in Aus­tralia’s his­tory, Fenech thinks our na­tion’s fight land­scape — and in­deed, its rep­u­ta­tion glob­ally — is cur­rently un­der­go­ing a revo­lu­tion thanks to the Mt An­nan father-of-three who doubles as a UFC mid­dleweight champ.

At 27, Whit­taker is on an un­beaten run stretch­ing four years and eight fights.

More than the first Aus­tralian to win a UFC ti­tle, he is now look­ing to dou­ble down and de­fend against Cuban Yoel Romero at UFC 225 next Sun­day.

“And a UFC ti­tle, I be­lieve it car­ries the same weight as a (big four) box­ing one,” said Fenech, an un­abashed Whit­taker fan.

“Which is why we need to start dis­cus­sions about where a fighter like him will even­tu­ally be cel­e­brated. Yes, he’s still un­der­rated now. But Rob will soon have a lot of Aus­tralians know him.”

Cer­tainly Whit­taker, too, wants to ink his name among Aussie fight greats like Fenech, Lionel Rose and Les Darcy.

Quizzed on be­com­ing Aus­tralia’s first UFC champ, he said: “Hon­estly, the belt doesn’t carry much sig­nif­i­cance for me. And that’s be­cause I don’t just want to be a cham­pion. I want to be the best fighter in the world. Best fighter ever. So the belt, it’s just a con­so­la­tion prize.”

Born and raised in a Syd­ney hous­ing com­mis­sion sub­urb, Whit­taker grew up the son of a sin­gle par­ent, dad Jack, and re­calls a child­hood where noth­ing came with­out be­ing earned.

“But my back­ground is my back­ground,” he said. “Nei­ther here nor there. What I’m do­ing now, it’s be­cause I want to pro­vide for my fam­ily.

“Give my chil­dren a bet­ter plat­form to raise their own kids.”

And that, you should know, is a yarn all its own. Apart from his own three chil­dren — Jack (three), John (18 months) and Lil­iana (three months) — Whit­taker and his wife, Sofia, are also rais­ing the mid­dleweight’s younger sis­ter Kerehi (14) and brother Henry (12).

Asked about rais­ing sib­lings, who share the same mum, Whit­taker said: “I’m the old­est so it falls to me to make sure ev­ery­one is happy. I’ve al­ways been close with my younger sib­lings so we de­cided they’d come live with me for a bit — go to school out here, help out with the kids — and see how it all went. And they’re en­joy­ing it, every­thing is great.”

De­spite his rise to UFC cham­pion, Whit­taker still teaches chil­dren’s ju­jitsu classes and works reg­u­larly with dis­ad­van­taged and in­dige­nous youth.

Whit­taker is con­sid­ered one of the more in­tro­verted fight­ers, with for­mer mid­dleweight champ Michael Bisp­ing once la­belling him “the most bor­ing bas­tard in the world”.

“But I’d rather be bor­ing than fake,” Whit­taker said. “Or full of shit. It seems like a lot of UFC fight­ers th­ese days, and peo­ple in gen­eral ac­tu­ally, think they’re more im­por­tant than they are So when I’m not fight­ing, I’m try­ing to be a good dad, good hus­band, good per­son.”

Still, a lit­tle chat­ter cer­tainly hasn’t hurt Conor McGre­gor’s bank ac­count.

“But Aus­tralians can tell when some­one is put­ting on a mask,” Whit­taker said. “When they’re fak­ing it. And there’s noth­ing we hate more than a fake. So that’s why I’ll al­ways be my­self … even if it doesn’t seem that ex­cit­ing.”

Which is why Whit­taker will leave oth­ers to dis­cuss UFC belts, cham­pi­onship de­fences, even po­ten­tial changes to the Aus­tralian Box­ing Hall of Fame.

Pic­ture: Sam Rut­tyn

Aus­tralia’s UFC mid­dleweight cham­pion Rob Whit­taker.

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