By Christopher Reive in Melbourne
"I was doing well, until I wasn't. That's just how it happens."
Robert Whittaker's assessment of his middleweight title loss to Israel Adesanya was simple but accurate.
In his first bout since mid-2018, Whittaker was dropped and stopped in the second round of the fight, seeing Adesanya leave Melbourne's Marvel Stadium as the new undisputed division champion.
In front of the 57,127 fight fans, the biggest ever crowd for a UFC event, Whittaker appeared to be working his game plan well. Throughout he build up to the fight, the Kiwi-born Australian said he would be looking to push the pace and pressure Adesanya.
He did exactly that and looked to have settled into the fight nicely by getting the better of the first round. But, with just seconds left on the clock, Adesanya sent Whittaker to the canvas, with the Australian being saved by the bell.
He continued to push forward in the second round, but Adesanya's reach advantage, speed and elusiveness made life difficult for Whittaker, who got caught by a right check-hook followed by a left hook and fell to the canvas, with the fight being stopped moments later.
"If you put two of the best strikers in the world together that's what happens; someone's going to get caught. Unfortunately, tonight it was me," Whittaker said of the result.
"I felt really good out there. I felt like I was controlling the fight. I just got caught."
Like any fighter who has just lost their title, it leaves the question hanging over his immediate future and who his next opponent will be. Had the bout been a five-round slugfest, he would likely have had grounds for an immediate rematch, but being knocked out in the second round, Whittaker will likely have to work his way back to another title shot.
In the last year, the middleweight division has become one of the most hotly contested in the UFC, with Adesanya leading the way from the likes of Brazilian Paulo Costa, and American duo Jared Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum.
While Whittaker was open about his desire for a rematch, he was realistic about his path back to the top.
"Obviously I'm always down for a rematch, but I'm on the market. I'm here to fight, I'm back to work. I felt great out there, I felt great tonight. Honest to God, this is the best I've ever been and it just wasn't my night," Whittaker said.
"I just came of second best tonight. That's not to say it will happen two times in a row. When you're fighting at this level, every fight is on the line. A lot of the fans don't realise we're walking a tightrope out there and everybody can beat everybody. Tonight wasn't my night, but tomorrow could be.
"Obviously I'm disappointed, but I took the fight to (Adesanya).Me and him are two of the best strikers in the world. It was tit for tat and I got caught. It happens.
"I'd like to see on another night us go at it again because I think I can (beat him). That's what's so disappointing, I guess. I feel like I can beat him, I have the skillset to beat him but we clashed heads and I came off second best.
"He beat me tonight, but I'm 28 and this is my first loss in the division. Trust me when I say I'm not going anywhere."