With hours to go before UFC 234‘s scheduled kickoff at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, UFC president Dana White announced on Saturday that middleweight champion Robert Whittaker will be missing his scheduled title defense against Kelvin Gastelum due to an abdominal hernia.
Speaking to ESPN‘s Brett Okamoto, White explained that Whittaker experienced pain in his abdomen on Friday night, hours after successfully weighing in. He was then taken to a local hospital, where he was diagnosed with a hernia. The 28-year-old Australian fighter is scheduled to undergo surgery later on Saturday, White further confirmed.
Following the cancelation of Whittaker’s fight against Gastelum, the co-main event pitting up-and-coming New Zealand fighter Israel Adesanya and mixed martial arts legend Anderson Silva was moved to the final bout of the evening. While this is a non-title fight, ESPN noted that the winner of Adesanya vs. Silva will be the next No. 1 contender for the middleweight title.
Whittaker’s 11th-hour withdrawal from Saturday night’s scheduled bout at UFC 234 marked the second time that he was forced to miss a title defense in his home country due to injury. As recalled by CBS Sports, a staph infection put Whittaker out of commission for what would have been a title defense against Luke Rockhold at UFC 221 in February 2018.
Originally crowned interim middleweight champion after defeating Yoel Romero at UFC 213 in July 2017, Robert Whittaker became undisputed champion in the 185-pound division when Georges St-Pierre vacated the title in December of that year. Due to the aforementioned injuries, he has yet to officially defend his middleweight title, though he did have a rematch against Romero at UFC 225 last June that became a non-title fight when the latter failed to make weight.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 9, 2019
Gastelum, who had most recently defeated Ronaldo Souza at UFC 224 in May 2018, took to Instagram shortly after White’s announcement to comment on the cancelation of his scheduled bout.
“With much sorrow I write that my fight for the middleweight title is off. I’m sorry to everyone that was expecting this great fight, Family, friends and followers from around the world. God has a reason for doing things and I firmly believe his plans are much bigger and better than I can even imagine. I’m so torn about this situation. A lifetime of pursuit to be able to reach this level and I hope none of these efforts will go in vain.”
As noted by MMA Junkie, there is no clear timeline for Whittaker’s recovery from surgery. Neither he nor his representatives have issued any comment on the matter as of this writing.