Whittaker aiming to dethrone Jeff Horn
BOXING: Robert Whittaker is ready to challenge Jeff Horn for the tag of Australia's No.1 fighter after confirming he will defend his UFC title and wrestle at the Commonwealth Games in 2018.
In what shapes as a world first, Whittaker told The Daily Telegraph he still plans to compete in the 97kg division in next April's Games - despite the Gold Coast event occurring only weeks after he defends his title for the first time against American Luke Rockhold at UFC 221.
The Rockhold headliner takes place in Perth on February 11, with the Games opening on April 4.
The decision caps a whirlwind couple of days for the Sydneysider, who was bizarrely crowned UFC middleweight champ last Friday while travelling to Falls Creek, Victoria, for an altitude training camp.
With regular champ Georges St-Pierre vacating due to health reasons, Whittaker - who already owned the interim belt thanks to an undefeated run of eight fights - was promptly elevated to No.1.
"So I found out at the end of an eight-hour car ride," he said.
And as for a new belt?
"Yeah, I think the UFC are sending me another one of those from the US, too," he said.
Apart from creating history as Australia's first UFC champion, Whittaker can now double down and potentially usurp Horn - who defends his own WBO welterweight crown against Englishman Gary Corcoran on Wednesday night in Brisbane.
Asked his thoughts on becoming the nation's best fighter in any discipline, Whittaker said: "I guess it's possible.
"But in saying that, I have nothing but respect for Jeff Horn and wish him all the best in his fight. We're just two Aussies out there doing our thing.
"And for me, the sole concern for the next few months is beating Luke Rockhold ... that's it".
Asked if, given the strange nature in which he received the middleweight strap, he really felt like the new champ, Whittaker continued: "Oh, absolutely.
"To be completely honest, I've never felt like anything but the champ of this division. And I'm not sure anyone out there sees it differently.
"I've already run through the toughest dudes. So even in the eyes of my fellow competitors, I was always the champ."
Whittaker also reiterated his plan to compete at the Commonwealth Games, which opens 52 days after the Rockhold fight.
The father of two qualified last month at the Australian wrestling trials, which followed on from his win at the Australian Wrestling Championships in May.
"I should be fine for the Games, given it's not until April," he said. "But that isn't in my thoughts right now.
"I'm proud to have qualified.
"And I'm happy for myself and my coaches, because we really trained hard for it.
"But I'm not thinking about the Commonwealth Games or anything else until after this fight with Luke Rockhold."
Meanwhile, Rockhold has jetted into Australia for a whirlwind media tour that saw him and Whittaker front a press conference in Perth on Tuesday before flying into Sydney.
And while there have been whispers of a beef between the two middleweights, Whittaker was quick to quash them.
"Where did you hear that?'' he said. "I like Rockhold, have absolutely no problem with him.
"Although in saying that, we won't be hanging out over the next couple of days."