Australia is falling over itself to claim NZ-born Robert Whittaker as its own, after the 26-year-old from Sydney became the first man from Aussie shores to wrap a bit of UFC gold around his waist in Las Vegas on Sunday.

Whittaker, 26, was born at Middlemore Hospital to a Maori mother and bears a traditional Maori tattoo on his right shoulder. He insists he's proud to represent both countries.

The nature of Whittaker's victory in his interim middleweight title bout against physical freak Yoel Romero at UFC 213, coupled with his exemplary three-year body of work since moving to the 185-pound division, has suddenly made him a favourite with Australiasian MMA fans.

But the former sparky, who can forget about his finances for a few years, after pocketing half a million dollars for one day's work, has more than enough going for him to become one of the biggest sports stars in both countries.


He's clean-cut and classy
Humble origins ... respectful in victory and defeat ... ability to fight through injury ... Whittaker ticks every box Australians (and Kiwis) generally require of their champions.

He's not going to excite you with trash talk or make headlines for bad behaviour, and while that may inhibit his pay-per-view potential, it should be an advantage when the corporate world comes knocking.

If the Aussie public is honestly tired of our diva tennis stars, it needs to put its money where its mouth is and back an athlete who is doing everything right.

He's as mentally strong as anyone in Australian sport
It's hard to compare standing toe to toe with a beast like Romero with, say, pushing up the steeper climbs in the Tour de France or making a putt to win the US Masters.

But what's become abundantly clear during Whittaker's rise to the top is his mental approach to fighting is on par with anyone in the game.

Consider the discipline he maintained to avoid being caught by the creative striking of Uriah Hall. Or the composure he showed to survive an early Derek Brunson storm.

Or the dexterity needed to escape "Jacare" Souza on the ground.

But all those performances paled in comparison to what he produced against Romero. After copping a savage kick to the front of an already-injured knee in the opening round, Whittaker was forced to fight another 20 minutes against the most-feared man in the division with limited movement.

After dropping the first two rounds, his margin for error was razor-thin. But he put all that behind him to snatch the third round and then held firm when Romero gave everything in an attempt to win the fight in the fourth.

He never looked back. It was inspirational.

He's only 26 years old
Whittaker joined UFC luminaries like Jon Jones, Jose Aldo and BJ Penn by winning his first strap in his mid-20s.

He needs to knock off undisputed middleweight champion Michael Bisping to cap his rise to the top, but from that point anything is possible.

Producing an extended reign as champion won't be easy in a division that has treated its belt like a hot potato in recent years. There's a murderer's row of potential opponents, including former champions Luke Rockhold, Chris Weidman and the greatest of all-time Anderson Silva, who are all looking for another shot.

But with his best yet to come, Whittaker figures to be at the top - or at least very near it - well into next decade.

He's a complete fighter
The team behind the man known as "The Reaper" - or more recently "Bobby Knuckles" - received well-earned recognition during Sunday's broadcast.

For the eighth fight in a row, Whittaker came in with a perfect gameplan and executed it to a tee.

His knockout power and submission skills have been evident since the very early days of his career, when his first nine wins all came inside the first round.

But Whittaker has improved with every showing - from the takedown defence Dana White describes as "ridiculous" to the diverse kicking game he used to take Souza's head off and sap Romero's energy.

Whittaker always comes prepared, has no obvious weaknesses and most importantly, is bloody exciting to watch. Five of his past seven purses have been topped up by fight of the night or performance of the night bonuses.

He doesn't have to promote his next fight
Whittaker has already done a lot of the heavy lifting required to establish his career by overcoming two extremely dangerous opponents in Souza and Romero.

Either of those men could have set his pursuit of stardom back years, but he's passed the most difficult tests in the division and now it's time to cash in.

That starts with Bisping, who presents as a favourable match-up for the title. There's a reason Georges St-Pierre wanted to make his return to the UFC at middleweight.

The Englishman is seen as one of the UFC's more beatable beltholders, largely because his results before becoming top dog were more illustrative of a journeyman than a champion.

While there may be doubts about whether Bisping is the best fighter in the division, there's no doubt he's the best talker.

The Ultimate Fighter Three winner is one of the best salesmen MMA has seen and that figures to help Whittaker's popularity, especially if the fight is held in Australia.

It's time to buy stock in Robert Whittaker.