Will Robert Whittaker fight Alex Pereira next? Ranking the former UFC champ’s likely next opponent
Certain things just aren’t supposed to go together like pineapple and pizza and Kayne West and any form of social media. It seems Robert Whittaker and a UFC card in Perth is the latest addition to those ill-fated combinations.
This morning, the former middleweight champion confirmed his blockbuster clash with Paulo Costa had been scrapped after the Brazilian failed to come to terms with the UFC during contract negotiations. This marks the second time the duo has had a fight against each other fall through, while Whittaker has now been scrapped twice from a UFC event in Western Australia.
WHY IS WHITTAKER VS COSTA OFF?
‘The Reaper’ originally felt compelled to appear at UFC 284, where a stacked slate is headlined by Alexander Volkanovski’s attempt to become a two-division champion, after being forced to withdraw four years ago from a title fight in Perth against the then-champ Luke Rockhold.
MORE: Robert Whittaker vs. Paulo Costa removed from UFC 284 in Perth
The 32-year-old made his professional debut in the state over a decade ago when he beat Chris Tallowin via a first round TKO at XFC 14 but hasn’t been able to get back to WA since.
“Perth feels like my backyard,” he told Fox Sports back in October.
“Having to withdraw from that fight, those things play on my mind heaps because I know I have a huge fan base here in Australia.
“I know that when people come see me fight, they book flights, book accommodation and tickets, all of it. So, for me to then not fight, it left a real sour taste in my mouth.”
Whittaker felt that he owed the public a fight and his match-up with Costa perfectly fit the bill as it almost guaranteed another shot at the title if he emerged victorious.
Although, his best laid plans have been thrown into disarray after Costa refused the fight while stating that he’d never actually signed on to fight Whittaker in the first place.
‘Borrachinha’ inked his deal with the UFC five years ago and in three of his last four fights has clashed with fighters ranked in the top-five within the middleweight division. He has openly been angling for improved terms for the past few years.
“The biggest mistake of my career was signing that deal in 2017,” he said in a recent interview with Submission Radio.
“It was so long for so little money. I didn’t sign a smart deal. But it was partly my fault and partly the fault of my manager at the time, so I’m trying to fix that.”
Whittaker addressed the disappointing situation via a video on his Twitter, revealing the UFC attempted to smooth over relations with Costa with a fresh contract which he rebuffed.
“I’m sure you’ve seen the media and the rumours going around right now about the Perth card and it’s upsetting to say – very upsetting to say – they’re true,” he said.
“The fight with Costa has fallen apart. The UFC tried everything in their power to get him to the fight.
Status Update #UFC284 #UFCPerth @ufc @UFC_AUSNZ pic.twitter.com/dPl4q2S8nj
— Robert Whittaker (@robwhittakermma) December 19, 2022
“They gave him a new contract, from what I understand, to take the fight and he still didn’t take the fight. So, yeah, the Perth fight is not happening.”
Whittaker confirmed he wouldn’t appear at all on the Perth card and will instead be booked for a later date.
“They’re looking to reschedule me in March, April and this is very upsetting,” he said.
“I’m going to train like a demon and just take out my frustrations on the next guy. Whoever they put in front of me in that first quarter, I’m going to get in there and do my work.”
However, Costa addressed the supposed new contract offer by once again criticising the UFC and blaming the organisation for the fight’s collapse.
“Great fights is [sic] going down due to lack of negotiation skills, they should stop being petty,” he wrote on Twitter.
Guys sending me this, I feel sad for Robert because the UFC didn’t tell him the truth lol, you don’t deserve this. Bro, sorry I won’t fight you in Perth UFC posting this (Robert vs Costa)just to sell tickets, you need to realize that.They didn’t pay me, I’m out!I’m not joking 🙃 pic.twitter.com/J43Z3LVnyq
— Paulo Costa ( Borrachinha ) (@BorrachinhaMMA) December 19, 2022
WHO WILL ROBERT WHITTAKER FIGHT NEXT?
“I signed a contract and I’m training my butt off and I’m starving myself to get down to the weight limit,” Whittaker told Submission Radio as discontent emanating from Costa’s camp reached fever pitch last week.
“Someone is getting beaten up in February. They’re not going to find anyone else. Costa’s going to take the fight…One hundred percent he will be there.
“If he misses this one, this is the second time we were supposed to fight and he’s going to bounce on it?
“And due to the fact that he’s not happy with his contract? Who is happy with their contract? Like, just take the fight.”
Yet with Costa now seemingly in the rear-view mirror for the second time in just a few years, who could be Whittaker’s next opponent?
Following Pereira’s TKO victory over Adesanya that sent shockwaves through the sport, Whittaker revealed he felt he could be a perfect match against the new middleweight champion.
“He’s definitely much straighter and he doesn’t lean back and fade away as well as Izzy does,” he told Fox Sports.
“Izzy is a more defensive striker, so I think technically it’s a much better fight for me.”
He may have to wait his turn though after Adesanya immediately called for a rematch, despite losing for the third time in a row against the Brazilian.
However, Darren Till argued that a rematch between Adesanya and Pereira shouldn’t automatically be granted to ‘The Last Stylebender’.
“Is a fourth fight worth it?” Till asked MMA Junkie.
“I know you have to because Izzy was the champ for a long time and was dominant, but Alex has beaten him three times.
“I know I’ve lost a fight here and there but if you lose a fourth fight to the same person, I don’t know.”
Dricus Du Plessis
The man who beat Till last weekend, Dricus Du Plessis, believes he will be firmly in the title picture within a year. Surprisingly, he didn’t expect Pereira to still be around at that time.
“Probably Izzy or Rob Whittaker,” the South African said when theorising who he would face for the strap.
“I think Alex is an amazing fighter, but I think Rob Whittaker beats him. I honestly think Whittaker can beat Alex.
“I just think when it comes to mixed martial arts as a whole, I think Whittaker has a style to beat Alex Pereira.”
Du Plessis is quickly making a name for himself in the UFC, boasting a perfect 4-0 record inside the octagon and is confident about his ability to be a challenger in 2023.
“I’d be surprised if I don’t fight for the title in the next year,” the 28-year-old told The MMA Hour.
However, it remains to be seen whether Whittaker would be willing to risk so much by facing the rising contender as there is very little for him to gain from the fight other than remaining active.
Fresh off his victory over Sean Strickland at UFC Vegas 66, Jared Cannonier has tossed up a potential rematch against Whittaker.
“For me, with Costa and Whittaker having their match in limbo, I’m more than happy to step in,” Cannonier told MMA on SiriusXM.
The No.3-ranked fighter was originally scheduled to face Whittaker at UFC 248, until the Aussie pulled out due to undisclosed reasons. Yet the two eventually met at UFC 254 with Cannonier losing via unanimous decision.
As soon as Pereira got his hand lifted against Adesanya, the Brazilian had a number of fighters lining up to try and steal the belt away from him.
Chimaev challenged ‘Poatan’ to a fight this month which didn’t materialise. But Whittaker could be interested in facing the outspoken Chechen-born Swede, who famously failed to make weight in the welterweight division during his last fight, due to his skyrocketing reputation and popularity in the UFC.
One that is a little bit out of leftfield could be a boxing match against IBF cruiserweight world champion Jai Opetaia.
Opetaia’s promoter, Dean Lonergan, told Sporting News this year that discussions were ongoing with Whittaker’s manager, Titus Day, for a bout.
“I believe he’s spoken to Rob and Rob’s keen to have a crack at it,” Lonergan said.
MORE: Jai Opetaia and Robert Whittaker being lined up to face off in 2023 super fight
While Day confirmed to Sporting News that it was a fight Whittaker “would love to make happen.”
If Pereira is tied up with a rematch against Adesanya, as expected early next year, ‘The Reaper’ could possibly venture outside the UFC in the meantime while waiting for his title shot.