UFC: Robert Whittaker delivers career-best performance

By Daniel Richardson

Robert Whittaker celebrates his TKO victory over Derek Brunson at Rod Laver Arena. Photo  Getty
Robert Whittaker celebrates his TKO victory over Derek Brunson at Rod Laver Arena. Photo Getty

Robert Whittaker is on his way to big things in the UFC.

The Kiwi-born middleweight scored the most notable win of his professional MMA career when he knocked out Derek Brunson in the first round of the main event of UFC Fight Night 101 in Melbourne today.

Whittaker, who turns 26 next month, has won his past six fights and looks set to challenge a top contender in the near future.

He is a perfect 5-0 since he moved up to the middleweight division from welterweight in 2014.

Brunson, who also entered today's bout on a five-fight winning streak, came out at breakneck speed and connected on a handful of clean shots of his own against Whittaker (17-4).

But the Sydney-based Whittaker was able to absorb the flurry as he kept himself in the bout.

Whittaker showed his near-flawless takedown defence as Brunson (16-4) also looked to use his high-level wrestling before a left hook counter-punch from Whittaker changed the complexion of the fight.

With Brunson on wobbly legs, Whittaker continued to pepper the American with accurate shots before a head kick left Brunson out on his feet.

From there, Whittaker swarmed with a barrage of punches and with four minutes and seven seconds gone in the first frame, referee Herb Dean stopped the fight as the crowd at Rod Laver Arena exploded.

"We had a solid gameplan," Whittaker said after the fight. "We knew he was going to come out tough but I had no idea he was going to come out that hard.
"He hits hard. Very hard."

Whittaker entered the bout at No 7 in the middleweight rankings, with Brunson at No 8, and this win will put him in the frame to potentially be one victory away from a title shot.

The middleweight division is a talent-laden one that is ruled by brash Brit Michael Bisping (30-7), while fellow big names Luke Rockhold (15-3), Yoel Romero (13-1) and Ronaldo Souza (23-4, 1 NC) are also among the top dogs.

"I'm ready for the top-five contenders," Whittaker declared.

With his second son due next month, Whittaker was given some extra reasons to smile as he won two US $50,000 post-fight bonuses. One for being involved in the 'Fight of the Night', while the other was a 'Performance of the Night' bonus for his impressive win.

Meanwhile, Dan Hooker is still searching for consecutive victories in the UFC.

The Kiwi featherweight dropped a unanimous decision to Jason Knight (15-2) on today's undercard.

Hooker, who made his UFC debut in his hometown of Auckland in 2014, has alternated three wins and as many losses during his time with the promotion.

After submitting Mark Eddiva (6-3) via guillotine choke at UFC Fight Night 85 in Brisbane in March, Hooker had the opportunity to record back-to-back wins in the UFC for the first time.

But Knight proved a tough opponent with his volume striking and solid wrestling setting up his victory. Hooker too often looked for one-out shots and didn't set up combinations to take advantage of his length.

The judges scored it 30-26, 30-27 and 29-28 all in favour of the American. The loss dropped Hooker to 13-7 in his MMA career.

"I came here to beat the next guy in my way," Knight said in the cage after the fight. "That's what I came here for. I hope I gained some fans."

Hooker will head back to the drawing board for 2017 as he plots his next move, while 2017 promises to be a huge year for Whittaker.

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