“DON’T underestimate us”.
That’s the stern warning from UFC middleweight title contender Robert Whittaker as a band of Aussies prepare for UFC Melbourne.
Nine of the 12 scheduled bouts at Rod Laver Arena on Sunday will be occupied by Australians, with Sydneysider Whittaker meeting American Derek Brunson in the main event.
And a “super patriotic” Whittaker declared: “it’s us against them … every time”.
“It’s all in good spirits, but that rivalry … it adds fire to it. This fight coming up is a huge milestone in my career, and to headline the card is the biggest honour.”
Albury export Damien Brown, who will fight American Jon Tuck, is no stranger to fighting for his country.
A former soldier, Brown served in Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008 on the frontline.
“Fighting for my country is not something I run around being loud about, but it’s something that’s close to my heart and it makes me proud to represent the Australian flag and Australia on the world stage,” Brown said.
Alex Volkanovski, of Shell Harbour, will make his UFC debut against Japan’s Yusuke Kasuya, while American-born and Brisbane based Ben Nguyen meets American Geane Herrera.
“I had gook luck in Melbourne last time, so I’m looking forward to getting a win,” Walsh said.
Western Sydney native Tyson Pedro steps into the octagon for his maiden UFC bout and is still pinching himself.
“It’s an amazing opportunity. Every kid dreams of representing their country, whether it be in rugby league, fighting … I’m just proud to be representing Australia,” Pedro said.
Fellow New South Welshman Kyle Noke, who fights Russian Omari Akhmedov, said the breadth of talent in Australian MMA would be on show.
“It just goes to show how much depth we have in Australia now,” Noke said.
“The card’s stacked with Australian fighters and every Australian fighter has a great chance to win their fight. It’s a real credit to how far we’ve come in Australia in martial arts. It will be a great night for the Aussies.”
Fighting in their home town for a second time, it doesn’t get any better for Epping’s Jake Matthews and Westmeadows’ Daniel Kelly.
“It’s really important to win, especially in your home town,” said Kelly, a four-time judo Olympian.
“This is another step up again and it’s crucial for me to take another step up in the rankings.”
Matthews, who fights in the co main event against America Andrew Holbrook, is preparing for the biggest bout of his career.
“I’ve fought on bigger cards before, but this is definitely the most meaningful for me,” Matthews said.
“I love Australia and representing my country is the ultimate and this is the biggest fight of my career.”