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Wins more important than viral moments for former UFC champ

In a world of roaring engines drawing all the attention, former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker is a silent hybrid barely making a sound as he quietly treks toward his destination.

The 30-year-old Australian knows it may not be the wisest business decision as a combat sports athlete who makes a living by selling pay-per-views, but he doesn’t really know another way.

“There are pros and cons to how I do things,” he said Wednesday. “I’m very real to myself and my fans, and some people like me for it. But I don’t brag, I don’t hype myself up, I don’t trash talk. I don’t get into any of those sorts of things. I lose out on some of the benefits of that, but I’m just being me.”

Whittaker will once again let his performance do the talking when he fights fellow contender Kelvin Gastelum in the main event of the UFC on ESPN 22 card at the Apex on Saturday.

The bout headlines a 7 p.m. main card on ESPN, with preliminary bouts also airing on the network at 4.

The winner will likely get the next shot at champion Israel Adesanya, who has already defeated both of them.

Whittaker lost his belt to Adesanya in October 2019, his only defeat in his last 12 fights.

The former champion bounced back with wins over Darren Till and Jared Cannonier, but has to get through at least one more contender in Gastelum if he wants a rematch and a chance to reclaim his belt.

A narrative has formed that one reason Whittaker has not been granted a rematch is because he hasn’t been vocal in his demands to get one. That has led to social media chatter he just doesn’t want the fight against Adesanya.

Whittaker scoffed at the notion.

“One of the drawbacks of how I choose to operate is that people can (draw their own conclusions), but I’m just doing my thing,” Whittaker said with a laugh. “This is my path and my journey. I’m just comfortable being me.”

The fight with Gastelum was only booked a month ago when Whittaker’s scheduled opponent, Paulo Costa, had to withdraw due to lingering effects of COVID-19. Whittaker and Gastelum have been linked before, however.

Whittaker was scheduled to put his belt on the line against Gastelum in November 2018, but the champion had to pull out just hours before the bout and undergo emergency surgery on an abdominal hernia of the intestine and twisted and collapsed bowel.

Both fighters said the previous training camps for each other helped them prepare this time around with a great deal still on the line.

Whittaker even hinted he may finally find his voice and call out Adesanya should he earn a win.

“Who knows? Maybe I’ll surprise everybody,” Whittaker said. “We’ll wait and see. My calendar and scheduling only goes up until Saturday because it’s going to be a hard fight. I can’t look past him.”

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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Best bets for UFC on ESPN 23 in Las Vegas

Handicapper Lou Finocchiaro is banking on Dominick Reyes (+107) to defeat Jiri Prochazka on Saturday in the main event of UFC on ESPN 23 at the Apex.