Robert Whittaker has credited undefeated boxer Tim Tszyu for shaping the striking game he now believes will win back the UFC middleweight crown.
Set to fight for UFC gold later this year, Whittaker has told News Corp his sparring sessions with Tszyu, which have only ever taken place behind closed doors, will also now form a key part of his preparations for next title fight, tipped for September or October.
Australia’s first UFC champion revealed the son of Hall of Famer Kostya Tszyu had been instrumental in his most recent win over American Kelvin Gastelum, which UFC greats like Michael Bisping and Daniel Cormier labelled a “masterclass”.
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Tim Tszyu and Robert Whittaker have been sparring behind closed doors.Source:Supplied
So impressive did the 30-year-old Whittaker look in his unanimous decision win, Bisping insisted his Believe You Me podcast this week that the Sydneysider will be a far different proposition for Adesanya when they eventually square off later this year.
While Whittaker was expected to be catapulted immediately into a rematch with reigning UFC champ Israel Adesanya, who took his belt via KO in 2019, the New Zealander will instead fight Marvin Vettori at UFC 263 in June.
The fighter dubbed Bobby Knuckles will then challenge the winner at the end of the year.
“And Whittaker’s fight against Gastelum, that was the best performance of his career,” said Bisping. “He looked so f…ing good.
“And if he can recreate that type of performance against Israel Adesanya, I believe we’ll see a much, much different fight.
“All respect to the champ, Israel is incredible.
“But this Whittaker would give Adesanya a way better fight.”
Robert Whittaker earned plenty of praise for his recent win over Kelvin Gastelum.Source:Getty Images
Which brings us back to those sparring sessions with Tszyu which, so far, media have been banned from attending. Sessions Whittaker also now says will be part of his preparations for his upcoming title fight.
“The big thing for me about those sparring sessions with Tim, they’ve forced me to leave my comfort zone,” Whittaker said this week.
“I went across to boxing and quickly learnt that you can’t fight a boxer. So for this latest camp in particular, I was more focused on boxing.
“Rather than (combine) things as part of Mixed Martial Arts, I tried to focus on the individual sport for what it was.
“And against Tim, I had to learn quickly.
“But I think you could see the gains I took away during the fight with Kelvin Gastelum.”
Pushed on how the sessions had improved him, Whittaker continued: “Because Tim is so quick, I had to adapt.
Robert Whittaker has Israel Adesanya in his sights again.Source:News Corp Australia
“Had to get faster.
“My eyes had to pick everything up quicker.
“And as a result, everything has improved – my reflexes, my hand-eye coordination, my precision with strikes, the speed of my punches, all of it.
“My reflexes had to be honed to a sharp edge.
“And I think all that was really revealed when I was in there with Gastelum, like when I was shoulder rolling and avoiding his shots by the smallest fraction.”
While Whittaker will now prepare for a title shot, a host of other middleweights find themselves challenging to cement their own spot somewhere behind the division’s No.1 contender.
This weekend at UFC 262, Swede Jack Hermansson, who is ranked No.7 in the division, takes on Edmen Shahbazyan, who sits just three spots lower.
Adesanya proved too strong for Whittaker in Melbourne back in 2019.Source:AAP
The event is headlined by a UFC lightweight title fight between Michael Chandler and Charles Oliveira, a strap which has become available following the recent retirement of champ Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Chandler, a three-time Bellator lightweight champ, comes into the headliner off an impressive UFC debut – where he knocked out Kiwi Dan Hooker in the first round at UFC 257.
Oliveira is also on his incredible run of eight straight wins, seven of which have come via stoppage.
Whittaker, meanwhile, has himself lost only once in his past 13 fights — a second round knockout against Adesanya at UFC 243 in 2019.
Originally published asWhy UFC superstar Adesanya should fear Tim Tszyu
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