Robert Whittaker gives his expert view of the Conor McGregor boilover and drops a hint on his 2021 fight plans.
Fight Island. It sounds like something out of a movie, but it’s real – and depending on who you ask, it’s perfect. Fight Island was set up by the UFC last year in Abu Dhabi as a COVID-19 safe zone.
It ensured the UFC could continue to hold fights in the quarantine zone and athletes could train on site. There were no crowds on the island and the media was extremely limited.
Former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker says it was the perfect place to fight and train.
The 30-year-old recently welcomed the birth of his fourth child, a son, Jace Whittaker. Rob is back hard at work training for his next big fight. Rumours have been swirling over an April bout for the Aussie MMA star but nothing has been confirmed.
Nine.com.au caught up with Whittaker to talk COVID, Conor and quarantine.
Firstly, I’ve got to know… what was Fight Island like?
I really enjoyed it. It was such a streamlined process, it was so professional… with COVID and the health restrictions, then making sure everybody is as safe as possible. Everything was just made so easy… ‘go here, do this, go there do this, go here do that.’ Obviously, there was a lot less media around it as well. A lot of the media could be done from a laptop or a phone in your room. So, it really agreed with me. The lack of crowd I also thought was a nice change to mix things up. I thought it was very nice, I liked it a lot.
How did it work? Was it all tailored to your individual needs?
Yeah, to an extent. Weeks prior you’re talking back and forth to the UFC, organising your meal plans and what you want to do… if you need mats in your room. It is catered, like they do try to meet all your needs, I had everything I could want. I had food, they provided training rooms which were just next door. It was honestly perfect.
Given the year we just had, what’s your 2021 looking like? How would you go travelling overseas and what’s your fight plan?
I’m looking to get back in the Octagon around late April. There’s a lot of rumours going around to the fight that I may or may not have, but I think that might be overseas. We in Australia and New Zealand have been really fortunate with the lockdown procedures and how COVID has affected us here, but I’m very fortunate because a lot of other parts of the world suffered greatly. I am quite fortunate and blessed in the fact that I am still able to do what I do to earn a living for my family, and to do so safely. I think travelling is still available if you need to go for work and you can get exemptions and things like that. And obviously there’s big health procedures involved with quarantining and things. So yeah, I see just getting back into training and getting back into more work for the year.
Can I get your thoughts on the Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier fight? Do you think it’s time for McGregor to hang up the gloves?
I definitely don’t think it’s time to hang up the gloves. He hasn’t lost that much. In the end he’s still quite young. It was a tricky fight. He got his leg disabled early on the first and then Poirier just stuck with it and got him. Got him some beautiful shots and then put him away. That’s the game, that’s the fight game. And it’s funny how the calf kick affected McGregor, because McGregor has a really wide stance and he uses that to great advantage to control the distance, and the reach of his shots. So, disabling that early on took McGregor out of his comfort zone, he was not comfortable for the rest of the fight.
Poirier is no slouch, you know. He can strike with the best of them, and he has. He’s fought McGregor before, he knew his strengths going into it. Poirier has been much more active than McGregor. I understand that McGregor was the favourite, but Poirier, I don’t think that should’ve been the case.
What’s your take on the hotel quarantine measures that the Australian Open tennis players have endured? Do you think players not in quarantine will have an advantage?
Yeah, certainly, I think it is an advantage not being in quarantine. Having access to courts, being able to keep moving and stuff. Because I’ve been in quarantine, I’ve done the two weeks. You do come out… your body isn’t as fluid – as fluid, as limber, as fit as it was going in. It’s because you can only do so much. You can only train so much in a hotel room, so I can see the upset. When I was in quarantine and I had to prep the (Jared) Cannonier fight, I took that on a quick turnaround on the back of the (Darren) Till fight. I had to have a training regime in there, so I set up a little program and a regime, a little room that I had there. I just had a mat, I had a buck machine, but there’s only so much you can do, and motivation is at an all-time low when you have just a bike and a mat in a two by two.
The more important question is… did you have your PlayStation 5 with you?
That was one of the key, key features of this next fight coming up and moving forward. To just take that with me and be able to hit the sessions in the grind, whilst I’m in isolation, to and from.