UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker released a statement after being forced to pull out of his UFC 234 headlining showdown against Kelvin Gastelum.
It’s hard not to feel for the champ after being deprived of another PPV headlining slot in his home-country, it really is.
We’ve seen fighters withdraw from bouts after instances of carelessness inside the gym or beyond in the past but Robert Whittaker’s case is truly one that falls within the category of ‘freakish’.
On fight-day of all days, he begins to develop symptoms that included vomiting and nausea before being told that he will be forced to undergo emergency surgery just hours before he was scheduled to compete inside the octagon.
To be honest – and this was a point made by UFC president Dana White – it’s nothing short of a miracle that the symptoms intensified when they did because make no mistake, ‘The Reaper’ fought his doctors until they made it perfectly clear that he would not be stepping in and facing Kelvin Gastelum – just prior to going under the knife.
According to White, just one shot to the body from the heavy-handed Gastelum could have killed Whittaker had they not discovered the problem when they did.
“He’s in the recovery room. I was with his wife and family. This is one of those freak accidents where the doctor said literally they’ve never seen this type of injury in a young person. This usually happens to old people.”
“His bowel and intestines poked through the hole. It didn’t happen yesterday after the weigh ins. They think he’s had this problem and it’s been going in and out. It’s one of those situations had it popped out during the fight it could have been fatal for him.” (via MMAMania)
Whittaker himself confirmed this with a statement to his fans through the UFC’s official Twitter account.
— UFC (@ufc) February 11, 2019
There have been quite a few people attacking Whittaker with the idea that he’s injury-prone but honestly, an abdominal hernia that rears its head on the day you’re meant to compete is clearly something that falls into the category of bad-luck more than anything else.
True, he was forced to pull out of his UFC 221 title-defense against Luke Rockhold – a shot that eventually went to Yoel Romero but many people have forgotten that it was a mistreated staph infection in his stomach that sent his health into a downward spiral on that occasion.
It’s a great shame that we’re being deprived of the opportunity to see Bobby Knuckles further his reign atop the middleweight division.
His last outing, which saw him edge out the aforementioned Romero on the scorecards, brought his ten-round rivalry with the Cuban to an end with one of the greatest fights of 2018.
Whittaker has found himself since making the step up to 185lbs but now, as its champion, he leaves the division in something of an awkward spot.
It doesn’t feel right to even discuss stripping the champ when he fought seven months ago. History will tell us that an injury won’t affect a champ’s status for quite a bit longer.
It’s not exactly clear, though, how long ‘The Reaper’ will be sidelined for.
The obvious move here would be to set Kelvin Gastelum up for an interim-title fight. Of course, that’s an idea that most fans will instantly be hesitant towards but the interim-belt is a concept that makes a lot of sense in certain scenarios – irrespective of how overdone it has been of late.
Knowing the UFC, Israel Adesanya will be the man to share the octagon with Gastelum in a fight that we likely will not be waiting long for – given Adesanya’s level of activity and Kelvin’s recent training camp.
For some, a win over a #15 ranked Anderson Silva isn’t enough to see your name in there ahead of the Weidman’s, Rockhold’s, and Jacare’s of the division but do not be surprised if the UFC make the call and attempt to salvage the disaster that almost derailed an entire pay-per-view.
Regardless of the logic behind it, Gastelum vs. Adesanya is one helluva fight and if a prediction is to be made, expect it to take place before the summer is out.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena