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UFC contender Robert Whittaker takes another big step up in middleweight division

Australian Robert Whittaker bucked the trend of fighters dropping in weight and moved up from welterweight to middleweight two years ago as he continued to grow into his body.

It proved to be a wise decision.

The 25-year-old rising star knocked out Derek Brunson at 4:07 of the first round in the main event of UFC Fight Night 101 in Melbourne, Australia, on Saturday night to win his fifth straight fight since moving up to 185 pounds in 2014.

“I’m ready for those top five contenders,” he said. “I’m ready for my shot.”

Whittaker almost certainly earned another big opportunity by ending Brunson’s five-fight winning streak.

What the fight lacked in technical beauty, it made up for in pure chaos.

Brunson landed several big shots and appeared to be nearing his fifth consecutive first-round knockout win as both fighters swung wildly over the first several minutes. At one point, Brunson chased Whittaker across the cage only to have his pursuit halted by a big left hook from Whittaker.

The blow changed the momentum. Whittaker followed with a head kick and then landed a series of short left hands to drop Brunson and eventually finish the fight on the ground.

“He hits very hard,” Whittaker said. “His other opponents would testify to that. But I hit hard too. I’m just as fast, just as strong. You don’t come at me like that.

“I knew I had to weather the storm. He’s a heavy hitter. I had to duck and weave as much as I could. I stuck to the game plan, circled out and found a weakness.”

Whittaker went 3-2 in his first five fights in the UFC as a welterweight before moving up in weight. Brunson had been on a tear of his own in the division.

Also on the card, lightweight prospect Jake Matthews dropped his second straight fight with a split-decision loss to Andrew Holbrook.

Las Vegan Khalil Rountree fell to 0-2 in the UFC when he was submitted by Tyson Pedro in the first round of a middleweight bout.

Veteran Kyle Noke dropped a unanimous decision to welterweight Omari Akhmedov and then announced his retirement from the sport.

Thank you to the UFC and all the fans,” Noke posted on Twitter after his fight. “It’s time to hang up the gloves. I’ve had a blessed life doing what I love. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

The 36-year-old Australian, who competed on Season 11 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” finishes his career with a 6-6 mark in the UFC and an overall record of 22-10-1. He lost his last three fights.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-277-8028. Follow @adamhilllvrj on Twitter.

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