UFC champion Robert Whittaker has downplayed the threat posed by New Zealand's Israel Adesanya to his middleweight belt.
In April, Adesanya will square off with Kelvin Gastelum in Atlanta for the interim middleweight title. The winner of that fight will advance to take on Whittaker for the chance to be crowned the division's unified champion.
The Kiwi has enjoyed a heady rise to the of the rankings, winning five straight fights in the space of just 12 months to establish himself as a leading title contender.
- Adesanya to meet Gastelum in Atlanta
- Adesanya defeats Anderson Silva in Melbourne
- Adesanya reflects on 'crazy' win over Silva
However, Whittaker isn't so convinced, suggesting Adesanya's abilities have been over-hyped.
"I think Adesanya isn't as good as he thinks he is," Whittaker told GrangeTV.
"I think he's very good - very, very good - and I have a lot of respect for his skillset, 100 per cent. He's a dangerous guy.
"But I don't think the pedestal that he's on is as high as everyone else thinks it is, and he thinks it is."
The NZ-born Australian was forced to withdraw from his headline bout at UFC 234 in Melbourne earlier this month, after being rushed into emergency surgery due to a collapsed bowl and hernia.
That saw Adesanya's clash with Brazilian great Anderson Silva promoted to the main event, where 'The Last Stylebender' prevailed via unanimous decision.
Whittaker believes Adesanya's highly-touted striking abilities – born from his background as a world class kickboxer – have been overstated.
"The times Adesanya's looked very good is against people that don't have the greatest striking.
"I think his fight with Anderson Silva was the first time his stand-up capabilities were put to the test with someone with similar stand-up capabilities.
"Having very high technical skills in striking, isn't the same as being a very dangerous striker…. it's very good, I'm not saying his striking is bad, it's very, very good - but I just don't think it's as good as he thinks it is."
Asked which of the two he'd prefer to fight in his next title defence, Whittaker was emphatic in his response.
"I'd like to fight Adesanya. One, he's been asking for it. And two, I like that fight, I like the way he fights.
"He's a distance fighter, he likes to utilise his striking, which agrees with me. I'm a distance fighter, but I close distance really fast and I hit very hard. I think I'd surprise him."
Whittaker's initial recovery time from his surgery is expected to be approximately four to six weeks.