According to UFC president Dana White, his middleweight champion may have dodged a bullet.
Robert Whittaker was set to defend his title against Kelvin Gastelum in the main event of UFC 234 in Melbourne, Australia, but on Saturday he was forced to withdraw from that bout after being diagnosed with a hernia that required immediate surgery.
On the UFC 234 preliminary card broadcast, White spoke to Megan Olivi about the severity of Whittaker’s condition.
“He’s in the recovery room with his wife and his family,” White said. “This is one of those freak accidents where the doctor said he’d literally never seen this type of injury in a young person. This usually only happens to old people. His bowel and his intestines poked through the hole and it didn’t happen yesterday after the [weigh-ins]. They think he had this problem and it’s been going in and out.
“And it’s one of those situations had it popped out during the fight, it could have been fatal for him. So this is really serious, we don’t know exactly what happened with the doctor. Hopefully they popped it back in and sewed it up and if that’s the case, he’ll be four weeks. This was a freak, freak injury, less than one percent — our doctor here at the UFC, who’s been doing this for 30 years, has never seen it ever in his career and not in a young person. It’s usually in much older people.”
This is the second time Whittaker was forced to withdraw from a title fight in his home country. Last February, an injury spoiled Whittaker’s fight with Luke Rockhold at UFC 221 in Perth. In his 20 months as a UFC titleholder, Whittaker has yet to log an official title defense. His most recent fight, a five-round unanimous decision win over Yoel Romero, became a non-title affair after Romero missed weight for the contest.
White was non-committal about potentially introducing an interim middleweight belt until Whittaker’s timetable for a return is fully known. Whittaker could miss as little as four weeks.
Gastelum has already offered his well-wishes to Whittaker, but White told Olivi that he hasn’t had a conversation with Gastelum yet.
“It’s disappointing for everybody,” White said. “I’ve only texted Kelvin. I haven’t talked to him. I’ll talk to him when he gets here tonight. Obviously, everyone is disappointed. Big fight. Fun fight. But we still got Anderson vs. Israel.”