«For me to be who I am, be the role model I want to be, to set the examples I want to, I need to lead by example. I need to just do it.»
So well is he doing it that UFC 234 — headlined by Whittaker’s middleweight championship defence against Kelvin Gastelum — sells out Rod Laver Arena in eight minutes.
However Whittaker remains the promotion’s most underrated champion. UFC president Dana White thinks a part of that is because «we’ve got to beat him over the head with a stick to do media, he’s just not that guy».
As those words came out of White’s mouth at the pre-fight press conference, Whittaker sits silently with a wry grin.
There is no disdain for media, only a sense of frustration if it takes precedence over preparation. He is a fighter after all.
Regardless of how he is perceived in the eyes of corporates trying to make headway into «one of the top markets in the world for mixed martial arts», in that region Whittaker is already king.
A line of t-shirts emblazoned with the nickname «Bobby Knuckles» sell out nearly as quickly as Whittaker’s looming title fight. It is a nickname «The Reaper» once detested, but such is its popularity he simply decided, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
As he comes eye to eye with Gastelum at the press conference, Whittaker is a unique mixture of confidence and modesty. He shakes the hand of his opponent three times as «Aussie» chants ring loud.
Less than 24 hours later Whittaker presents a different demeanour, emerging from behind a curtain at the weigh-in and beating his chest to the roar of the crowd.
«I’ll leave my soul in there,» Whittaker said of his will to win.
The champion is in fight mode. The steely resolve standing before Gastelum has gone unconquered since February 2014. Not even a broken hand could stop it.
«If you look at the fights he has fought, this guy is good. He’s very talented. Eventually he will keep running through people and keep winning, and he’ll win the respect he deserves,» White said.
First Whittaker must block out the hype surrounding his first defence on home soil, the potential of a Trans-Tasman superfight with Israel Adesanya or a date with the legendary Anderson Silva.
There will be no stage fright.
«It’s just another day in the office really. I’ve done this before. I knew the reception was going to be like this. As Australians, we love fighting,» Whittaker said.
«I’m going to be in there giving it everything I have. There is enough motivation for me fighting Kelvin. Normally you think you can block the crowd out. The Rod Laver Arena in particular, the crowd, the feel, it’s something special. It’s really crazy.
«In terms of me developing myself, it’s a true test. It’s going to be a true test of my character and my abilities. I look forward to Sunday, getting out there and testing myself against him and learning from it.»
Caden Helmers is a sports reporter for The Canberra Times