UFC champion Rob Whittaker says he won’t entertain a blockbuster bout against the legendary Anderson Silva until he has defended his title on home soil.
Headlining UFC 234 at Rod Laver Arena on February 10 — only Australia’s second pay-per-view UFC card in history — Whittaker refuses to disrespect challenger Kelvin Gastelum.
Whittaker and American Gastelum faced off at a press conference at Melbourne Arena today to promote the main event, with exciting New Zealand prospect Israel Adesanya taking on Silva in the co-main event.
Brazilian Silva has been promised a middleweight title shot by UFC president Dana White — should be defeat Adesanya in Melbourne — but Whittaker won’t look that far ahead.
“I wouldn’t think to disrespect Kelvin that way,” Whittaker said.
“My sights and my focus are solely on Kelvin Gastelum at this point. To even think of taking another fight is ridiculous.”
Gastelum, the No.4 ranked middleweight, made the long flight from the US to square off with Whittaker.
But he declined to trash talk the champion.
“Rob’s a respectable guy. I’m not one of those obnoxious guys that likes to start drama,” Gastelum said.
“This has been a long time in the making for me. I’m excited for this opportunity.
“This is a once in a lifetime and I’m going to make the most of it … I’m a soldier and I’m going to keep on soldiering through.”
Sydneysider Whittaker said he was eager to put his belt on the line for the first time, having been denied the opportunity when Yoel Romero missed weight back in July.
Whittaker then sustained a knee injury, delaying his return to the octagon.
“I feel really good, I’m in top form and I’m looking forward to February,” Whittaker said.
“Obviously I was disappointed earlier this year that I couldn’t defend my belt at home, so to be able to have a second chance at that means the world to me.”
Whittaker, 27, anticipates another sold-out crowd of more than 13,000.
“The last event I had at Rod Laver Arena, it’s not that you couldn’t block out the sound, but you couldn’t block out the feeling,” he said.
“The feeling was in the air. It’s about trying not to let your emotions get away with anything or over commit.
“It was one of the greatest highlights in my career.”
The undefeated Adesanya continues to pinch himself that he will share the cage with Silva, who owns the recorded for the most title defences in UFC history.
“I know this is real and I’m living it but it hasn’t really sunken in yet,” Adesanya said.