Over the past few years, UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker has faced the kinds of setbacks that perhaps no fighter in history has ever dealt with.
Injuries are just part of the sport. But the 28-year old former “Ultimate Fighter” winner has endured far more than that – a bizarre stretch of illnesses and last-minute surgeries that have slashed his octagon appearances to three over the past two years.
In his most recent mishap, Whittaker was forced to pull out of UFC 234 in Melbourne just hours before he was to face Kelvin Gastelum. He was rushed to the hospital and wound up getting emergency surgery to correct an abdominal hernia in addition to a twisted and collapsed bowel.
In the aftermath of that situation, Whittaker opened up about falling into a pit of depression, feeling like he was just “tired of it all.”
“It’s just something I’ve wanted to talk about it,” Whittaker said on the UFC 243 media conference call. “I had to come to terms with it first. I had to identify it and be able to look for it myself but on the back of it, I just thought a lot of people can take something away from my own experiences.
“I feel that with the platform that I have and the amount of followers and the spotlight, it’s my responsibility to get that message out there.”
Over time, the champ was able to work his way through it and come out on the other side. He believes it’s important to share his story, because he knows depression can strike anyone at any time.
After recovery from the surgery and his struggles with depression, Whittaker got back to work so he could return to his true passion of fighting.
As he approaches his upcoming fight against interim middleweight champion Israel Adesanya on Oct. 6, Whittaker is taking special care of his mind and body.
“The last couple of years have been a bit up and down, but I feel absolutely amazing,” he said. “On the back of that emergency surgery that I had to undergo, I just doubled down on my health. Like really, really paying close attention on how I’m feeling, how I’m performing and just my overall health. On the back of that, I’ve just become stronger, better for it.”
The hardest part for Whittaker to deal with during those long stretches of inactivity were the bizarre circumstances that surrounded his hiatus from fighting. It wasn’t like he blew out his knee and required surgery to repair the damage, but rather with medical emergencies that he wouldn’t wish upon his worst enemy.
That said, the reigning middleweight champion now believes the worst is behind him and he can finally get back to work defending his title on a normal schedule.
“I would personally like to fight a lot more. I’d love to be more active and to be able to get in there and get to work more often,” Whittaker said. “Obviously the last couple fights have been hard, and as you said, I’ve had some weird illnesses. They’re not like little injuries where I pulled out because I hurt my knee. I’ve gotten the chicken pox one time and then I had emergency bowel surgery the second time.
“It is strange, but I would like to fight more regularly after this.”