The Reaper's Rise - Australia's Most Underappreciated Athlete?
Updated: Jul 1
Professional fighters often receive a bad reputation.
But former Australian UFC Middleweight champion Robert Whittaker is the consummate professional and a role-model for any young athlete to aspire to.
Like many athletes, Whittaker uses social media - particularly YouTube and the use of podcasting - to grow his influence. Whittaker has been able to grow his presence through Grange TV a podcast with a YouTube channel of almost 5000 subscribers and over half a million views.
“We started the Grange TV podcast as a resource for some of the students in a program we run.” Whittaker recently said on an episode of UFC Countdown. “It’s also to get another look at me, in general, because everyone just sees the glitz and glamour of being a fighter.”
Australia loves its combat sports. In terms of PPV sales, we have the pound-for-pound per capita strongest market. We also hold the all-time UFC attendance record when Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm packed out Marvel Stadium in 2015.
Whittaker, who is widely admired for his humility, has enjoyed a sponsor-friendly career earning endorsement deals with companies such as Musashi, Kaplan Homes, Muscle Meals and Actron air-conditioning. He uses his profile to inspire and is a regular contributor to children’s educational programs in Australia.
I was fortunate enough to interview Whittaker on my radio program Balls ‘n’ All shortly after he scored a knockout victory over Derek Brunson in late-2016. He was more than happy to give up his time for a chat about all things fighting.
Within the next 12 months, Whittaker became Australia’s first-ever UFC champion after defeating one of the most feared fighters in the world, Olympic silver-medallist Yoel Romero. He outworked the Cuban over five rounds, despite coming into the bout with a torn medial ligament in his left knee. Naturally, his popularity, marketability and social media presence skyrocketed.
Around this time, I was travelling state-to-state as part of my Kicking the Stigma football-mental health initiative. I still had Whittaker’s phone number from the interview the previous year and so I sent him a text message asking if he could post a photo to his Instagram with the message “It Ain’t Weak to Speak” – the tagline of Livin, the mental health charity I was an ambassador for at the time.
No response ... I didn’t think I would get anywhere, but what did I have to lose? However, later that week I woke up to the notification “@robwhittakermma has tagged you in a post”.
The great man delivered and posted a photo holding up a sign with our slogan, which was liked by over 5000 people including the official UFC account.