How close Whittaker came to quitting UFC
UFC star Rob Whittaker has revealed he would have walked away from mixed martial arts permanently had he not taken a sabbatical from the sport earlier this year.
Speaking ahead of his UFC return against English middleweight Darren "The Gorilla" Till in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, Whittaker has divulged the depths of the burnout which led him to walk away from MMA for several months after his title loss to Israel Adesanya last October.
Whittaker announced in January that the constant grind of training and fighting had worn him down - so much so he considered an early retirement.
"It was a career-ending burnout. It was either have a break or just quit," Whittaker said.
"It was a natural decision (to come back). It was a combination of me talking to my team, talking to my family, soul-searching. It was a mixture of the lot.
"I started realising (I'd return) much earlier than I decided to, because you can't just act impulsively on the first feeling you have."
After some time away, and via discussions with his team, Whittaker has retooled his approach to training and returns to the Octagon with a renewed fighting spirit.
"I want to fight, I want to put my skills to the test, I want to go have some fun, I don't care about anything else," Whittaker said.
"After about two months I came to my decision that I have a long time ahead of me.
"My headspace has undergone the biggest change. I'm enjoying the game again, I have a new found love for the sport and the training."
The knockout loss to Adesanya was Whittaker's first defeat since 2014 and the 29-year old is ready to return to the kind of form that saw him storm through the middleweight division and become Australia's first UFC champion.
He insist he carries no mental scars from the defeat, which happened in front of a record UFC crowd of 57,127 at Melbourne's Marvel Stadium.
"I've put it behind me. You can't dwell on those things, all you can do is learn from them," Whittaker said.
"I've learned a lot of things about myself inside and outside the Octagon because of that loss. It's part of the game, you can't win them all.
Whittaker's road back to UFC gold begins with Till, a former welterweight title challenger known for his furious power and intensity.
A fearsome counter-striker, Till has 12 finishes from his 18 victories and downed the respected Kelvin Gastelum in his middleweight debut in November.
"I'm sure he (Till) hits hard. I've had people tell me I hit hard. I knock people out, he's knocked people out, the trick is not to get hit," Whittaker said.
"His most dangerous weapon is the singular left hand, where I have such an arsenal of weapons at my disposal.
"I can take him wherever I want. If I want to take him to the ground I'll take him to the ground, if I want to knock him out I'm gonna try.
"He's fought for titles, he's been in the top ten in the welterweight division and now middleweight - he's a good fighter, I just think I'm better."
Originally published as How close Whittaker came to quitting UFC