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Robert Whittaker says his path to becoming a two-time UFC middleweight champion must take him past, or through, the unbeaten Khamzat Chimaev.

It was announced on Thursday that Whittaker will clash with Chimaev in the main event of the UFC’s June debut in Saudi Arabia — a development Whittaker admits he was not expecting, particularly with the UFC’s return to Australia set to be a pay-per-view card this coming August.

“I’m in a great headspace to take another hard fight,” Whittaker, who defeated Paulo Costa last month, told MMArcade, as noted by MMA Fighting.  “I’m looking forward to it. Every hard fight pushes my skills to the next level, and this gets me in line to get the belt back. That’s the goal, isn’t it?”

“Obviously it’s a bit of a shock because it comes out of nowhere,” he added. “I would have assumed UFC was going to hold me in the ranks for the Australia card in August, which is kind of what I was preparing for. But I’m happy UFC have given me this boon. This is my path to the title.

“This is the way I earn money for my kids. To be able to do that so close — like I’ve said in other episodes, I want to increase my activity. God willing and my body’s healthy, there’s no reason I shouldn’t take this fight. What else am I going to be doing?

“Also, the fact that the fight is in Saudi Arabia, that’s the first time the UFC has been there. So I am pumped to be part of that history. I’ve done that a few times now, and it all gets notched into my legacy. So I have direction now. I have energy, momentum.”

To date, none of Khamzat Chimaev’s 13 opponents have been able to solve the riddle of the unbeaten Chechen-born fighter but Whittaker says that their similarities will guarantee fireworks when the cage door slams shut on June 22.

“I understand he’s a hard fighter,” he said. “He likes to grapple a lot. He uses his reach and range to good effectiveness. He’s got knockout power. But honestly, he likes to play the villain against his opponents, but he’s an honourable fighter. We’re going to get in there and have an honest fight. We’re both going to leave it in there. He’s not a quitter, I’m not a quitter.”