The Severe Spotlight: Robert Whittaker

The Boogeyman, Bobby Knuckles. Robert Whittaker, despite his many monikers is what is still beautiful about MMA. A short notice replacement fell across his lap amid his weight cut preparations, Khamzat Chimaev’s horrific luck continues as he was hospitalised with illness. Scheduled to fight Antonio Trócoli was Ikram Aliskerov, who neatly weaves into the storyline of Chimaev. The pair met in 2019 where Chimaev also finished Aliskerov with an uppercut.

Whittaker took that short notice replacement, and as a testament to the man he is, rolled on through anyway. One of the awe-inspiring elements of Robert Whittaker as a human isn’t the down-to-earth nature despite being an elite level athlete, not the love of video game sessions with his father, not his dedication to his family, not his unrelenting will to not spend time in the limelight, but his understanding that his athletic career is a job, its not an exorcism of past demons, it’s not a hedonistic endeavour of gratitude or extra-curricular glory. It’s a job. A method with which he can put food on his families table. It just so happens he is world-class at his job.

A touch of gloves brings the bout to an opening, Whittaker immediately adopts his rhythmic, steady orthodox stance cadence, lead hand low, right hand centre chest. Aliskerov with a more traditional pace to his cadence, in and out of range before settling flat footed to offer feints. In the first fifteen seconds, Aliskerov was on the back foot of the feinting game. Whittaker’s lead foot of the bladed stance, slicing through the centre line of Aliskerov, the back leg twitches causing Aliskerov to consistently reset, the upper body feints causing him to be unable to plant his feet to fire off his own shots.

Some kicks from Aliskerov and the long reaching left jab of Whittaker open us up to strikes thrown. This is interesting too. Aliskerov opting for the longer-range strikes and Whittaker showing him the inverse has the same effect, Aliskerov unable to deter the range encroachment Whittaker’s centre line penetration and long jab offers inside the first 30 seconds. Whittaker having found some reads moving forward opts to move backward, turning a new page in his notebook to see what inscriptions he can jot down. The left kick comes from Aliskerov, but he doesn’t cut an angle as he draws it back, and so in darts Whittaker and slams a right low kick to the thigh.

36 seconds in.

One of the real strengths of the Whittaker arsenal is his ability to jam his opponent. A jam is when you are moving backward incrementally, whether at an angle or otherwise, and then time an entrance into the pocket of space you have created, usually as your opponent is chambering strikes, this destroys the range with which your opponent has opted to strike from, and thus removes the efficacy of the chosen strikes. You, however, have a choice of strikes as you close the distance. Whittaker often likes the 1-2 from here as fights go longer, in this instance he opts for a clean jab.

Whittaker after landing the jab comes back out to land a naked low kick that’s countered by the pawing jab of Aliskerov, a little eager by the Australian. An angled jab leads to Whittaker’s fatal read making.

Whittaker notices that as he feints the right hand, the left kick comes from Aliskerov, whether it launches or not, its primed. As we creep into the second minute of the fight, Whittaker pumps out three or four feints that Aliskerov reacts too, bear in mind these feints are not coming from a static range, Whittaker is still darting in and out, moving laterally, playing with the upper body range with leans and head jerks. Each time the combinations are starting with a right-hand feint, the left leg rises of Aliskerov and the lead left hand lands from Whittaker.

After landing that lead left twice in a quick succession, the torrid minute and 38 seconds begins to come to an end for Aliskerov as Whittaker changes his shot and throws the right hand, landing clean down the centre line and detonating on the Aliskerov chin. Shockwaves ricochet through the body of Aliskerov as he wobbles like a strawman in a tornado.

This is one of the most magnificent elements of any high-level fighter, but specifically of Robert Whittaker, his shot selection when a fighter is hurt is almost impeccable. He pushes Aliskerov back with two jabs. Fearing his immediate exit to the right hand throws a blistering right high kick, this doesn’t land as the right hand that had come before it had been so forceful Aliskerov had been forced to place his hands on the mat momentarily.

Knowing now that Aliskerov was going to exit to Whittaker’s left, he fakes the right hand and lands a crisp left, snapping the head back and forcing Aliskerov to flee with grater aplomb, this gives way to the body arch on the cleanest uppercut right through the middle of the guard that uproots the tree of Aliskerov and sends him crashing to the mat, three shots from top turtle is enough for Marc Goddard to wave the fight off and Whittaker reels away with jubilation.

The Boogeyman.

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