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Morning Report: Robert Whittaker out with injury, won’t defend middleweight title until early 2019

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

After winning a split decision over Yoel Romero in their rematch last month at UFC 225, middleweight champion Robert Whittaker was looking forward to getting to compete with someone other than “Soldier of God.” Unfortunately, it looks like he won’t be able to do that for a while.

Whittaker, who broke his hand in the first round of the bout, spoke with Ariel Helwani of ESPN yesterday and revealed that he had surgery on his hand but will likely be sidelined until February of next year because of the long process of getting back to full strength.

“It’s still only several weeks from surgery so I’m still working on it,” Whittaker said. “I can’t even start a rehab process yet, it’s more of just letting it heal and letting it set properly first before I can even implement that.

“They put a plate and some screws (in it). People don’t know this but also I did ligament damage in my left hand but obviously the attention was drawn to the broken one...

“I definitely won’t be ready before next year. My hand rehab — both hands — I have to get to 100 percent with my hands before I can start rehab. The healing process has to be done before I can even start a rehab program and then I need strengthen my hand up to 100 percent. Then, when I’m a 100 percent, I’d like to get a little bit of training done.

“Realistically, I’m looking at like February of next year.”

That’s bad news for fans who were hoping to see a quick turnaround for Whittaker coming off his Fight of the Year contender. Luckily, Whittaker won’t just be sitting around being forgotten during his time off, the middleweight champion is coaching the next (and possibly final) season of The Ultimate Fighter, in part because his injuries meant this was an opportune time to do something like this.

“This is a perfect time to do it because my training is kind of slow at the moment due to my injuries, so why not?” Whittaker suggested. “I was honored to be given the opportunity, first and foremost. But to be able to coach where I started, it’s definitely a funny feeling, a little bit of symbolism there to finish up the TUF series where I kind of kicked everything off.”

Coaching opposite Whittaker is the man he will be standing across the cage from next, another former TUF winner, Kelvin Gastelum. Though the two will be taking a good stretch of time off before fighting, Gastelum has put together a strong run since moving up to middleweight and recently opined that the “wars” Whittaker had with Romero may have irrevocably changed the middleweight champion. Whittaker agrees. but he thinks they made him a better fighter, not a worn out one.

“I think all damage that you take inside the octagon is real and should be taking seriously but I’m not worried that it’ll have any effect on my performance,” Whittaker said. “I haven’t even reached my peak yet, the peak of my potential. This hard fight, if anything, is going to mold me and shape me as to how I approach fights from now on. I think everyone has to have their mettle tested in a tough fight and that was one of them for me.”

Should everything work out, Gastelum will get to find out first hand which one of them is right regarding the physical state of the middleweight champion, and if Whittaker has his druthers, they’ll be doing it in his own backyard.

“If the timeline works out and I can have an Australian card and an Australian fight in my home country, I would absolutely love that,” Whittaker concluded. “I missed my chance early this year but we’ll have to see where the cards fall.”


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Thanks for reading and see y’all tomorrow.



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