‘Sandman’ Whittaker primed to power through
EVERY dune in the notorious Wanda sandhills in Sydney has a name.
But as for Robert Whittaker being able to point you to K1, The Ramp, even that infamous Road to Nowhere?
"Nah, sorry," Australia's toughest man apologises this particular morning. "I haven't got a clue. I just get pointed at them myself … then go run."
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Doesn't he what?
Every Saturday for months now, Whittaker arriving at this most notorious of Sydney proving grounds to climb, sweat and spike his lactate through a program set, in part, by discussions involving his trainer Justin Lang and five-time Ironman champ, Craig Alexander.
Which isn't to say Whittaker hits the marks set here by Alexander, perhaps the country's fittest ever athlete.
But a fortnight ago, when The Daily Telegraph tagged along to his final workout among the dunes … well, those were the numbers he chased.
Over and over up those rises he couldn't name.
So a tough day out?
No, a tough day out is when NRL clubs come into Wanda for sessions involving a dozen climbs.
But Whittaker, his record is 37.
Although in recent weeks, the reigning UFC middleweight champ has been making 21 climbs on a turnaround of just 90 seconds.
"Which not only means getting up the hill in under 40 seconds," Lang explains, "but down and ready to go before again that stopwatch hits 90".
Or put another way, roughly half the time those leaguies get.
Which again, matters.
Especially when you consider that by the time he walks into Melbourne's Marvel Arena for UFC 243 this Sunday, Whittaker will have been sidelined from steel cages for around 14 months.
Or in fighting terms, forever.
His absence due largely to the type of bum luck that is a twisted and collapsed bowel, a serious staph infection, even chickenpox so bad his entire body blistered and scabbed.
Which is effectively the complete opposite to his rival, New Zealand prodigy Israel Adesanya.
A fella who in the same time frame has debuted in the UFC, gone undefeated through six bouts, overcome Brazilian legend Anderson Silva, even produced a 2019 Fight of the Year contender.
Which is why plenty of critics are now questioning if, in what shapes as the biggest fight in Australian sports history, Whittaker has the tank to go five rounds.
Or worse, if ring rust will be an issue.
"But it won't be," Lang insists. "I can assure you Rob is better conditioned for this fight than ever before in his career."
And again, because of those sessions in the dunes where, for fun afterwards, Whittaker and his training team play tackle footy - uphill.
"So it's a shit game," Lang cackles. "But it's also what Rob is about.
"There's no secret ingredient, no bullshit … just climbs."
On his best days, no less than 37, either.
"So there is no breaking Rob Whittaker," Lang concludes. "If Adesanya wants to end this fight, he'll have to end Rob".