UFC Fight Island 3: Whittaker vs. Till Preview
A preview of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night card, set to take place in Abu Dhabi.
Updated: July 23, 2020 • 11:20 AM ET
Robert Whittaker is looking to get back to winning after suffering a loss in his last fight.
The UFC will host a fourth event on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi this Saturday, headlined by a middleweight fight with major title implications. In the main event, No. 1 middleweight contender Robert Whittaker will face former welterweight title challenger Darren Till.
Whittaker will return to the Octagon for the first time since losing the belt to Israel Adesanya by second-round knockout at UFC 243 in October. The loss ended Whittaker’s nine-fight winning streak, during which he defeated the likes of Brad Tavares, Uriah Hall, Derek Brunson, Jacare Souza and Yoel Romero (twice). Whittaker, however, seems to have responded well from the loss Adesanya.
“I’m just happy,” Whittaker recently said during a media scrum. “I’m alive again. The fire for the sport has been there.
“I’m enjoying all the different angles of it. I’m enjoying media week, the media. I’m enjoying the weight cut. I’m enjoying my time in isolation. That’s a massive change, and just feeling this way means that I’m gonna go in that octagon, happy as Larry, and I’m just gonna get to work. I’m just gonna have fun, because that’s what drew me to this sport was that I enjoyed the sport.”
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Whittaker’s first victory over Romero (by unanimous decision in 2017) at UFC 213 in 2017 was for the interim middleweight title, and the 29-year-old was soon after promoted to undisputed champion. In his first title defense, he fought Romero in a rematch at UFC 225 in 2018, but it was not for the title due to Romero missing weight. Whittaker’s split-decision win in the second fight in 2018 was controversial, as Romero hurt Whittaker late in the fight, which many pundits believed was enough to earn him the win.
Although Whittaker is the No. 1 middleweight contender and could put himself right back in line for a title shot if he wins on Saturday, he isn’t necessarily motivated to reclaim the belt.
“Honestly, nothing's changed with my hunger to fight," Whittaker said via Cageside Press. "My hunger to fight before was the exact same as it is now. The belt was always just a consequence of winning, and I want to win. I want to fight."
As far as defeating Till, Whittaker believes he knows what he has to do to win.
“His biggest threat is his left hand, he knows that as well,” Whittaker said. “That’s where I think I match up so much better against him than he does with me, because my biggest threat is too many of them. I have so many dangerous shots, I’m so creative.
“I have so many angles that I can exploit. He’s got his left hand, that’s all he’s got. Everything else I got covered. He runs that down the pipe, and he’s so well at using it. I’m not taking anything away from him, he’s used it on a dozen guys and he’s knocked them out, so I’ve got to be aware of that. I’ve got to give him the respect, but I got so many angles he has to be aware of.”
The No. 5 ranked Till (18-2) is coming off a split-decision win over former title challenger Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 244 in November. The fight was Till’s first at middleweight and a big rebound after losing two straight to Tyron Woodley and Jorge Masvidal.
Till believes a win over Whittaker would put him next in line to fight for a title shot, although champion Israel Adesanya is scheduled to face Paulo Costa in the main event at UFC 253 in September.
"If I win, (the fight that everybody wants to see) is Adesanya,” Till said at a media scrum. “I’ve said I think Adesanya-Costa is a 50-50. I think I’m slightly ending towards Adesanya, because I think with technical ability wise, I think he’s got a little bit more…but until I see both of them guys on the scale, I’m not believing that fight’s happening in September, so I’m going to stay ready for September.”
Many critics believe the 27-year-old English fighter was thrust into a welterweight title fight too early in his UFC career when he lost by second-round submission to Woodley in 2018. There’s no doubt that a win over Whittaker would put him in title contention at 185 pounds, but will he actually leapfrog the rest of the top 4 like he thinks he will?
Saturday’s co-main event will be a light heavyweight bout between veterans Mauricio Rua and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. The fight will be the third meeting between the two combatants with former champion Rua winning the first two meetings by unanimous decision.
Rua is 4-1-1 in his last six fights with his last being a draw with Paul Craig in November. The 38-year-old is a legend of the sport and including Nogueira, he has defeated Tyson Pedro, Corey Anderson, Brandon Vera, Lyoto Machida, Chuck Liddell, Mark Coleman, Alistair Overeem (twice), Kevin Randleman, Quinton Jackson and Ricardo Arona.
Nogueira is 4-6 in his last 10 fights, but the 44-year-old, like Rua, has defeated some of the best fighters in MMA. He has marquee wins over Rashad Evans, Tito Ortiz, Vladimir Matyushenko, Alistair Overeem (twice), Dan Henderson, Kazuhiro Nakamura (twice), and Guy Mezger.
The rest of the main card on ESPN at 8 p.m. EST
Heavyweight bout - No. 14 Fabricio Werdum vs. No. 7 (LHW) Alexander Gustafsson
Women’s strawweight bout - No. 7 Carla Esparza vs. No. 9 Marina Rodriguez
Light heavyweight bout - Paul Craig vs. Gadzhimurad Antigulov
Welterweight bout - Alex Oliveira vs. Peter Sobotta
Welterweight bout - Khamzat Chimaev vs. Rhys McKee
ESPN Prelims at 5 p.m. EST
Lightweight bout - Francisco Trinaldo vs. Jai Herbert
Welterweight bout - Nicolas Dalby vs. Jesse Ronson
Heavyweight bout - Tom Aspinall vs. Jake Collier
Featherweight bout - Movsar Evloev vs. Mike Grundy
Heavyweight bout - Tanner Boser vs. Raphael Pessoa Nunes
Women’s bantamweight bout - No. 13 Bethe Correia vs. Pannie Kianzad
Welterweight bout - Ramazan Emeev vs. Niklas Stolze
Bantamweight bout - Nathaniel Wood vs. John Castaneda