Although Costa (14-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC) swept the judges’ scorecards for a unanimous decision win over Rockhold at UFC 278 in August, Rockhold had his moments. An emotional Rockhold retired after the fight and detailed his struggles with injuries and his personal life.
Whittaker (24-6 MMA, 15-4 UFC), who meets Costa at UFC 284 on Feb. 12, expected more out of the Brazilian against Rockhold.
“Luke landing effective shots on Costa is no surprise,” Whittaker told Submission Radio. “He’s going to land shots no matter who he fights, really. But in saying that, Luke himself said it as well: He didn’t want to be there. Like, his will to fight was just not there. He was kind of just like, ‘Oh man, let’s just get through this.’
“And Costa still struggled with a Rockhold that did not want to be there. And he was getting tagged and hit. He had a lot of openings, he had a lot of holes. So as for what do I think of his performance in that fight? I don’t know. … It’s not great. Not great. Not bad, but not great.”
Whittaker is looking to reestablish himself as the No. 1 contender after falling short to middleweight champion Israel Adesanya for a second time at UFC 271. He sees Costa as a stern test, but is confident he’s the better fighter overall.
“I think he’s a tough guy, and I’m taking this fight with all the respect that I do every other fight,” Whittaker said. “I’m going to go in there in February the best version of myself, and I think the best version of myself is better than everybody else in the division. I think skill-wise, I’m better than Paulo across the board. He probably benches more than me. But my bench isn’t crazy anyway.
“He’s very well-rounded. He’s a very, very well-rounded fighter, and obviously he’s an athlete – a specimen. He’s got a lot of power, torque and explosiveness. But I’d like to think I’m all of those things, as well – and better.”