Celtic Warrior Whiteford discovered fighting spirit beating bullies as a kid
Mar 14, 2014 at 2:20p ET
They say of Rob Whiteford that he has 'a chin of granite, and hits like a train'.
He fights first on Saturday night in Dallas, against Daniel Pineda, as most spectators will be making their way to their seats.
What you won’t have heard from him thus far in his brief UFC career is that he came from a broken home and was placed in a children's boarding house at the age of 6. His mother couldn't cope with three children and little Robert was the one farmed out, to a large dwelling in Edinburgh, overrun with boisterous juveniles.
It didn’t take him long to learn that it was a tough world. He was bullied, but he stood up for himself, and defended others in an environment which felt like William Golding's 'Lord of The Flies'. There was a pecking order, and Whiteford never took a backward step against the bigger, more aggressive kids.
"I've been fighting ever since I can remember, really from the age of 6, fighting in the playground, fighting bullies, just standing up for myself," explains the Scotsman known as 'The Hammer'.
“It was a hostile environment. If you didn’t stick up for yourself, you were in the s***. I had to stand up for myself; I didn’t have a choice. My Mum and Dad split up, my Mum was a single parent with three kids, and it was too much for her. I was the youngest, so I had to go away.”
But it created a man with resolve. “No question. It has made me the man I am today, 100 per cent. I can stand on my own too feet. There is no one in the cage with you when the door shuts, and I’ve been used to that feeling since I was 6 years old.”
“When I went into the home I was one of the youngest there, and there was not a lot I could do about the bullying that went on. But I was the first one involved when anyone was being bullied, once I was big enough. By the time I was one of the oldest, I’d wiped out the culture of bullying.”
Powerful qualities. “Now I’m in the UFC, I have the confidence to tell my story. I want people to know that if you stand up, you can get there, and there is a way out and a way forward in life. I’d like to go back to my old school and speak to the kids, but I’ll go anywhere in the world and tell my story to kids.”
Unusually for a Scotsman, he has the gnarly ears of a seasoned wrestler. “Aye, they are my ‘chick magnets’,” he tells me with a guffaw. “Girls in Scotland want to look at them, or even touch them. Some girls think I’m a rugby player, and I just play along with it.”
Whiteford competed as a judoka to a very high level, from the age of 18, and should have progressed even further. "I never really put myself forward," he told me. "I wasn't that kind of person. I didn't have the confidence. It has come in my later years."
Now 30, with a record of 10-2 after four years in MMA, he explained: “I’ve never been favoured. There was always a golden child, and I was the kid at the back, having to prove over the course of time that I was better than them. People did not pay attention to me, and I was always counted out. It’s just the way it has been for me.”
Training at Grip House in Glasgow with Joanne Calderwood the heralded strawweight who fights in a kilt and joins the TUF 20 series in May, has not always been a cakewalk, though the pair are jovial friends.
"She's incredible. I knew she had the talent to go further. I joked I’d be first to get in the UFC, and always teased her up that she was in a man’s sport, just teasing her. But her fighting speaks of itself. She’s more than capable of going into TUF and winning it.”
“She’s dangerous. A lot of the girls like fighting, or the idea of fighting, but when she fights, she’s like a boy in a girls’ body. She broke one of my teeth in half - she kneed me in the mouth as I shot in for a takedown in training. She's promised me that when she has the money, she'll pay for the dentistry to get it fixed," he laughed.
Whiteford fought Jimy Hettes in Manchester in October on five days' notice. But the prep has been good for Pineda.
“I’ve had eight weeks training, I’ve spent time at American Top Team and I can’t wait to get in there. It’s great to be on a sold-out card on one of the biggest events of the year. Sean Shelby has done a great job with this match-up and there will be fireworks. He come aggressive and let’s just say I’m coming to be more aggressive,” he says.
“I’m up first. I’ll be looking to get a great performance under my belt, wash and change, then get out there and soak up the atmosphere and watch all the guys from ATT on the card who I’ve been training with the last few weeks.”
Take a good look at Rob Whiteford. A ‘Braveheart’ in the real tradition of Celtic warriors.