(This post first appeared on MMAFrenzy.)
Hardcore fans, and likely observers in New Zealand and Australia, are well aware of the incredible run Robert Whittaker has been on in the last couple of years. But could a second win over Yoel Romero at UFC 225 make the middleweight champ one of the promotion’s top stars?
It wasn’t that long ago really when it looked like Whittaker may end up being a journeyman at 170. After Whittaker won The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes in 2012, the Australian resident proceeded to go 1-2, which included a loss to Stephen Thompson in 2014. But, since that defeat, Whittaker has done nothing but win. Not only has Whittaker gone 8-0, he’s defeated top middleweights like Yoel Romero, “Jacare” Souza and Derek Brunson. He’s also the promotion’s reigning middleweight champ.
Despite the fact Whittaker is on one of the greatest runs right now in the sport, he’s not really seen as one of the UFC’s biggest names Leading up to his rematch with Romero at UFC 225, June 9th, Whittaker has talked repeatedly about entrenching a legacy, which, certainly has implications on a fighter’s fame (quotes via MMA Fighting):
“Creating a legacy is one of my overall objectives in my career as a fighter,” Whittaker said. “And it didn’t stop when I got sick. That is part of the legacy and that is part of my journey. Being sick and going through those turmoils and hardships is what makes the rewards so sweet, or what makes getting over those bumps and those obstacles so glorifying.”
“[Romero] is a tough guy. He’s the No. 1 contender, and after beating Rockhold, he deserves a shot. He’s beaten everybody else. There’s just me and him now. Defending the belt doesn’t mean much to me. My ultimate goal is just to fight the top dogs, the boogeymen, the bad guys. So I look forward to fighting Romero.”
So, there’s no question that if Whittaker defeats Romero for a second time, his stock as one of the planet’s best fighters will rise again. But, will it propel him into that superstar status? That’s a good question.
If Whittaker goes out there and storms through Romero, then one would think / hope that more mainstream, casual fans will start paying attention to what “Bobby Knuckles” is doing. After all, he will have defeated a man, twice, who has wrecked the likes of Lyoto Machida, Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman.
But, even if Whittaker scores an emphatic win, he may need to defend the 185 title a few more times, before he develops a considerable following of casual fans (outside of Australia and New Zealand). Since Whittaker is pretty mild mannered and not a controversial figure, it just seems like he doesn’t have that superstar buzz tied to him yet.