UFC Saudi Arabia: Robert Whittaker makes statement with 1st-round KO of Ikram Aliskerov

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA - JUNE 22: Robert Whittaker of New Zealand reacts after his victory against Ikram Aliskerov of Russia in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Kingdom Arena on June 22, 2024 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Robert Whittaker didn't need to take this fight after Khamzat Chimaev dropped out. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Robert Whittaker is still very much a member of the UFC's middleweight elite.

The former champion stopped replacement opponent Ikram Aliskerov with a vicious first-round KO of the rising star at the UFC's card in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, improving his record to 26-7. The loss ended a seven-fight win streak for Aliskerov.

Whittaker wobbled Aliskerov with a hard right a couple of minutes into the bout, eventually opening up the Russian for an uppercut that dropped him to the mat.

Aliskerov was part of the fight as a replacement for fellow rising star Khamzat Chimaev, who pulled out of the main event due to illness, part of a wave of high-profile withdrawals from UFC main events.

Still, it's an impressive win for Whittaker. The UFC has seen many champions fall off precipitously after losing their belt, but that simply hasn't happened to the Australian. Since 2014, the only fighters who have beaten him are current UFC middleweight champion Dricus du Plessis and former champ Israel Adesanya, with three wins against top-10 opponents.

Whittaker now has some options in a division that has seen some flux lately. He's still looking for a title shot and rematch against du Plessis, but a bout against Sean Strickland, another former champ, could also be an attractive option. At worst, he'll be a brutal challenge for any upstart the UFC wants to throw at him.