Current UFC middleweight champion Rob Whittaker believes his 12-month hiatus from the sport has given everyone time to forget just how talented he is.
Whittaker (20-4) hasn't fought since June, 2018 when he earned a split decision win over Yoel Romero in Chicago. The Australian was then slated to headline UFC 234 in Melbourne earlier this year, but withdrew from his highly anticipated fight against Kelvin Gastelum at the eleventh hour with a potentially fatal hernia injury.
Now, as he gears up to fight the undefeated Israel Adesanya (17-0) at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne -- which is being dubbed the biggest to ever take place in Australasia -- Whittaker has issued a stern warning to all of his doubters.
"[I feel] like a fighter who retires and three weeks later everyone forgets about them," Whittaker told ESPN. "I haven't been able to fight for a bit over a year and that's just the nature of the sport. I was upset, but unfortunately that's just the way it is.
"But I feel great now. Honestly, I feel the healthiest and strongest I've ever been. I'm coming back in October and I'm going to make sure everyone remembers why I'm at the top."
Whittaker has never had the best of luck when fighting for championship belts on home soil.
A serious infection and an untimely bout of chickenpox forced him out of his maiden title defence against Luke Rockhold at UFC 221 in Perth last year. Then came the hernia trouble and collapsed bowel ahead of his showdown with Gastelum at Rod Laver Arena in January.
Whittaker, who trains out of Sydney, said he had "unfinished business" Down Under and was desperate to excite his home fans who have had to wait patiently.
"It's just another fight for me, but this fight means a lot in the sense that I have unfinished business in Melbourne," Whittaker told ESPN. "I want to get there and put on a show that a lot of my fans have been waiting desperately for."
While the majority of the capacity crowd will likely be cheering for Whittaker on October 6, it's not going to bother Adesanya. The Nigerian-born New Zealander says he's perfectly happy playing the role of the villain, as well as the underdog, when the pair go to battle inside the Octagon.
"It's going to be in Rob's backyard in Australia, but we're going to have a lot of Kiwis there and some Nigerians, we're everywhere, like a virus," Adesanya told ESPN when asked how he felt about the overwhelming support for Whittaker. "I have people backing me up but it doesn't really bother me. Once I get into the cage it's business as usual."
"I've been saying you guys should really start watching out for me because I'm coming to make big waves, but they don't want to do it. There's always going to be people talking shit, there's always going to be people saying what they want to say.
"I want the best Rob there's ever been and I'm glad he's taken this time off and is taking time to rest. I've got a belt now and I'm about to get another."