'Mozzie' UFC fighter gets kick out of Kiwi roots

WARRIOR: Australian UFC fighter Robert Whittaker says he is proud to have Maori blood and Kiwi links to his past.
Getty Images
WARRIOR: Australian UFC fighter Robert Whittaker says he is proud to have Maori blood and Kiwi links to his past.

When he beat Brad Scott on the Gold Coast last December Robert Whittaker joined a small but impressive group of mixed martial artists, New Zealand-born fighters who have scrapped in the UFC.

Despite his place of birth, Whittaker, who has a 2-0 record in his two UFC fights, is Australian through and through.

Hear him speak and images of the Sydney Opera House, Crocodile Dundee and long afternoons at the MCG drift into your mind.

But Whittaker was born in Auckland in December, 1990, when his Kiwi mother was visiting relatives - meaning that 22 years later he would join Mark Hunt and James Te Huna in the ranks of New Zealand-born men in the big-hype, big-money world of UFC.

"I was impatient," Whittaker told Sunday News, laughing.

"Pretty much all my mother's side is Kiwi and we have a strong Maori heritage.

"I think I was only there a month before we went home to Australia.

"Although I didn't spend much time in New Zealand at all, I feel really privileged to have that Maori blood and link to my past. I got my tattoo out of respect to that."

Whittaker's twin tattoos on his shoulders certainly tell the story of the scrappy Anzac welterweight come good.

On his left shoulder is a tattoo of the Southern Cross, his Aussie nod, while a large Maori design on his right side proudly displays his Kiwi links.

Whittaker was impressive in his last UFC fight, a knockout win over Colton Smith in UFC 160 in Las Vegas a month ago.

The 22-year-old Sydney-based fighter described that performance as the most important of his MMA career so far, during which he dominated his American opponent on the ground.

"The win in Vegas was probably the most significant I've had in my career yet," he said.

"Everyone thinks Australia and New Zealand MMA fighters don't have that wrestling base, whereas a lot of Americans and other countries have, with them being able to do wrestling at high-school levels.

"But I thought my fight was a great showing that us guys from down here can really handle it as far as wrestling goes.

"It was an absolute honour to fight in Vegas. Every fighter dreams of fighting at the MGM Grand. That's where so many legends have fought before and so many legends will continue to fight."

Whittaker got his UFC break after winning the 2012 edition of the UFC flagship reality programme, the Ultimate Fighter, earning him his fight against Scott last December.

"It was definitely a pretty hard experience," he said of Ultimate Fighter.

"They really try to take you out of your comfort zone and out of your element.

"They force you on each other. It's not the best fighting environment but I got through it and it gave me the stepping stones to get where I am today."

Whittaker's attempt to rise up the UFC welterweight ranks will continue in Indianapolis later this year, with the Auckland-born fighter due to meet American Court "The Crusher" McGee in the octagon on August 28.

"I was actually a fan of his when he went through Ultimate Fighter," Whittaker said. "I remember watching him and rooting for him.

"He's a tough fighter. He's got a tough chin and has really strong roots in all aspects of the game. To fight him is an absolute honour and privilege. I'm here to stay and I'm here to win. I'll go out there, take him to war and see if I can win."

Sunday News