Robert Whittaker, the Happy Warrior

It ended up taking Robert Whittaker nearly 10 months to wash the taste of UFC 243—where he lost his middleweight championship by knockout to Israel Adesanya in front of a record-setting crowd at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Australia—out of his mouth. However, that intermission, during which “Bobby Knuckles” very conspicuously took a step away from MMA and considered his fighting future before resetting his journey as a contender, may just have been key to getting back in the win column and one day to a second Ultimate Fighting Championship title.

Viewed against that backdrop, it’s not surprising that Whittaker’s overwhelming reaction to his unanimous decision verdict over former 170-pound title contender Darren Till was one of relief. He’d marched into his headlining spot at UFC on ESPN 14 as a slight favorite over “The Gorilla,” but there were plenty of people who anticipated the fight could be a coming-out party for the Scouser, who had looked impressive in his upset victory over Kelvin Gastelum in his debut middleweight fight in November. When Till knocked down Whittaker with a perfectly placed elbow in the first round, it felt for a minute like the fight may have been slipping away from “The Reaper,” and it’s anyone’s guess how long it would have taken him to rebuild if he had been stopped for a second consecutive time.

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