UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker underwent emergency surgery to repair a hernia, an injury that sidelined the Australian from his title defense at UFC 234 in Melbourne.
Whittaker was slated to headline the event in a much anticipated bout with Kelvin Gastelum at Rod Laver Arena. However, Whittaker complained of abdominal pain just hours before the event. He was taken to the hospital where he was diagnosed and sent into surgery, ESPN reported.
The 28-year-old is recovering, per ESPN.
“This was a freak, freak injury,” UFC president Dana White told ESPN. “It’s one of those situations where if it had popped out during the fight, it could have been fatal for him.”
Gastelum sent out support for Whittaker in a series of tweets, saying, “I wish (Whittaker) a speedy recovery champ! Get well soon,” in one post.
However, Gastelum later made it clear that he now considers himself UFC’s middleweight champion.
“This is my belt. I earned this,” Gastelum said. “I showed up, traveled thousands and thousands of miles from home, made the weight. In my world, the wrestling world, if the guy shows up and makes the weight, for some reason cancels the bout, the guy forfeits the match — I win. I am the champion.”
Gastelum said he hopes that “Rob heals up great,” and that “when he heals up, maybe he can get a crack at my title.”
It’s the second time Whittaker has been deprived of a title bout. Yoel Romero missed weight for UFC 225, rendering that fight with Whittaker a non-title bout, one that Whittaker won by unanimous decision.
A non-title bout between Israel Adesanya and Anderson Silva now becomes the headline event of UFC 234.
UFC has offered full refunds.
—Field Level Media