UFC champ Robert Whittaker on battling depression: 'It really does help talking about it'

Elias CepedaYahoo Sports Contributor
Robert Whittaker speaks during a UFC 242 press conference at Federation Square on Aug. 15, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Robert Whittaker speaks during a UFC 242 press conference at Federation Square on Aug. 15, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Ahead of his middleweight title defense Saturday in Australia at UFC 243, champion Robert Whittaker (20-4) spoke publicly for perhaps the first time about his battle with depression.

“I’ve never talked about this sort of stuff, but I get depressed in losing and seeing how far I’ve fallen,” he said on his excellent “Grange TV” podcast (in two parts, below).

“I start to go on a downward spiral into what you’d call depression. Because, when that starts to happen, it’s hard. I feel . the problem with depression is that you don’t see it creeping up on you. You don’t all of the sudden go, ‘well, I feel terrible, I must be going through depression.’ What starts to happen is it’s subtle, and it’s sneaky. And it creeps in. It starts slow. You don’t want to go out, or you don’t feel like training.”

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Whittaker went on to talk about different catalysts for spirals into depression, including losing after not doing all he feels he could to prepare, being injured, having breaks in his normal routine, and stresses with family and other personal parts of his life. Whittaker explained how, with a depressive personality, things can unexpectedly get dark, and then begin to affect important relationships in his life.

“Like, your mate will call you, and instead of answering, you’ll be like, ‘naw, can’t be bothered.’ Or, you’ll get text messages ... and you feel like you just can’t be bothered replying to text messages. That’s how it starts,” he continued.

“Then, you start trying to get out of sessions. One, because you feel like there’s no drive taking you there to do it. And two, the feeling of going to the session and getting absolutely hammered...you go to the session, you don’t perform well, and then you sit back and look at yourself and think, ‘well, I’m not performing well because I took all these months off or because I haven’t been doing the right things’ and then you’re double depressed.

“I start to really retreat into myself and just feel bad. I feel terrible. I feel unmotivated to do things and it just gets worse and worse and worse.”

Whittaker also said that he now realizes some of his anger problems as a youth were likely related to his depression. “When I was younger, I was quick to temper, because anger is the most easily accessible emotion to withdraw,” he explained.

“To cover things, mask things.”

Whittaker went on to talk about a hard time he had, mentally, after fighting Yoel Romero.

“The last camp was hard ... I had to take some time off because of my hand — and then we had ‘The Ultimate Fighter.’ We had that huge block of three months with not much training because of my hand. And just doing that, and not being in my routine, and being able to train properly It was hard. It was very hard mentally, very draining physically,” he admitted.

“You don’t realize how withdrawn you’ve become, and how far into that whirlpool of depression you’ve sunk until there’s no one around you anymore, and your relationships are already on the cusp of falling apart. And, that’s the most terrifying part about it because you don’t realize it’s happening to you until you’re there.”

Whittaker says that he does now speak with a therapist, and that he believes open discussion of depression is a big part of combating it, both personally, and as a society.

“It helps,” he said. “It really does help talking about it.”

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