Gain not fame to drive Whittaker
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.
Australia’s UFC middleweight champion Rob Whittaker.