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It’s ‘Hammer’ time once again

It was a big weekend for Bellator, but an even bigger weekend for Rob Whiteford, as the Scot returned with a win after 18 months of personal hell.

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Covering Bellator in Europe has been a fun addition to my regular beat over the last 12 months, and I always look forward to seeing the familiar faces – fighters and staffers – when I arrive for fight week. Bellator Europe 6 in London this past week was no different.

But while it was great to see a lot of the Bellator regulars during fight week, one of the biggest takeaways from the week was the return to action of a fighter who I’d covered long before he signed on the dotted line with Bellator.

That man was Robert “The Hammer” Whiteford, the Commonwealth Games Judo medallist whose ability to turn a fight on its head with one swing of his left hand made him an exciting fighter to watch, especially when fighting close to home here in the U.K.

I was at the Hydro Arena in Glasgow for the UFC’s maiden event in Scotland, as Whiteford entered the arena to the Scottish national anthem, “Flower of Scotland”, and scored a huge knockout of Paul Redmond to nearly take the roof off the futuristic Glasgow arena.

Whiteford had another emotional moment in London this weekend, but this time it was for very different reasons. He’d explained to us backstage that he’d succumbed to alcoholism and lost his marriage during his 18-month exile from the sport after a contractual wrangle with Russian promotion ACB left him unable to fight for a living for a year and a half.

But Bellator’s European matchmaker Jude Samuel gave Whiteford a route back, starting with a fight against Bellator featherweight grand prix competitor Sam Sicilia in London this past weekend. It was a tough opening assignment for the Scot, and it looked like things weren’t going his way as he was twice rocked by big shots from the American.

But Whiteford is as gritty as they come, and he threw everything he had at Sicilia in the final moments. Then, dramatically, he finished him with a dramatic last-gasp KO with just six seconds left on the clock.

It was a great moment for a fighter who has had his ups and downs over the last few years, and the emotion was there for all to see in his post-fight interview with us backstage following the fight.

Hopefully, now he is back in the game and surrounded by people who will have his back, we’ll see the best of Whiteford as a Bellator fighter.

And with 10 European Series events planned for 2020, and with a big win already under his belt, the future is looking bright once again for “The Hammer”.

Freelance sports writer and MMA reporter with 20 years’ experience in the UK's national media covering major sporting events including UFC world title fights, Olympic Games, FIFA World Cup, UEFA European Championships, Grand National and the FA Cup Final.