Robert Whittaker moved a step closer to a shot at the middleweight title after knocking out Derek Brunson in the first round at UFC Fight Night in Melbourne.
The New Zealand-born Australian, like his American opponent, came into the fight at Rod Laver Arena off the back of five straight wins and he was quick to extend that run to six, landing a left jab and then a kick to Brunson’s head with just over a minute remaining in the opening round.
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Whittaker followed with a flurry of blows before the referee stepped in, sealing a victory the Australian said would make waves in the UFC.
“I’ve made the whole middleweight [division] notice me,” Whittaker said. “The whole division understands that I’m for real and I’m here to stay. And I’m hunting. This is my run.”
Middleweight champion Michael Bisping is expected to take on top contender Yoel Romero early next year and Whittaker, who was due to fight Bisping last year before the Briton pulled out with an injury, said he is keen to meet the winner of that contest.
“I thought I could’ve taken it last year as well,” Whittaker said. “It’s a fight that I would like to have. When we were set to fight [in Melbourne] I got pumped to fight him and things happen.
“He’s not going to miss me forever. It is what it is. I’ll fight whoever they put in front of me and this is my run and I’m going forward. I want to fight these top-five dudes … eventually for the belt.”
Earlier in the day, four-time Olympic judoka Dan Kelly had threatened to steal the show, when the hometown favourite was judged the winner by unanimous decision after three intense rounds against American Chris Camozzi.
Kelly took a brutal elbow to the face from Camozzi in the opening round which left the 39-year-old’s face dripping blood for the rest of the bout. But the veteran’s superior grappling ability soon came to the fore, allowing him to pin Camozzi to the canvas and unleash a flurry of blows to his head late in the fight.