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In a massive blow to the UFC 234 card, middleweight champion Robert Whittaker will have to bow out of the main event due to a “severe abdominal injury requiring emergency surgery” suffered the night before his fight against Kelvin Gastelum, the UFC announced Saturday.
With Whittaker out, Anderson Silva’s long-awaited return to the Octagon against rising star Israel Adesanya has been elevated to the UFC 234 main event.
The news, in which Whittaker reportedly suffered a hernia, initially came via ESPN’s Brett Okamoto.
BREAKING NEWS: Robert Whittaker is OUT of his middleweight title defense against Kevin Gastelum. pic.twitter.com/ZfPUEn9YQM
— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) February 9, 2019
Per Okamoto, the hernia was not related to Whittaker’s weight cut. Whittaker reportedly complained of pain in his abdomen around midnight of the previous night and was soon taken to the hospital.
ESPN’s Ariel Helwani does not paint a pretty picture of what occurred that night.
According to source very close to Robert Whittaker here’s what happened: He started getting abdominal cramps and bloating late last night. Then vomiting started at about 10pm. He was taken to hospital at about 2am and has had a series of tests and scans and is now in surgery.
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) February 9, 2019
Robert Whittaker will miss Australia fight … again
The loss of Whittaker, who is on a nine-fight win streak, will certainly be a massive disappointment for many fans with UFC 234 tickets. The event was scheduled to take place in Melbourne, Australia, due to the 28-year-old’s status as the first Australian to hold a UFC belt.
Making the development even more bitter is that nearly this same thing happened a year ago with the same fighter, the same country and the same belt on the line.
Whittaker, fresh off winning the middleweight belt, had been scheduled to mount his first title defense in February 2018 against Luke Rockhold at UFC 221 in Perth, Australia. About a month before the event, Whittaker had to pull out with a staph infection in his stomach. Now, a year later, history has repeated itself with even worse timing for Dana White.
Because his next fight against Yoel Romero was a non-title bout after Romero missed weight, Whittaker still has yet to officially defend his belt a year into his status as middleweight champ.
Whittaker’s team: Fighting could have been fatal
Whittaker’s camp released a statement later Saturday announcing that the fighter underwent surgery for both an intestinal hernia and a “twisted and collapsed” bowel. Whittaker reportedly still wanted to fight up to his surgery, until he was told a blow to his stomach could have been fatal
Of course, none of that stopped Gastelum from declaring himself the “true” middleweight champion by virtue of flying all the way to Australia and making weight. We’ll see if White pays that any heed.
Anderson Silva’s return becomes new UFC 234 main event
With next to no time to find a replacement for Whittaker all the way out in Australia, UFC 234 turned to its old superstar in Silva to headline the event. Lando Vannata and Marcos Mariano’s lightweight matchup will also be elevated to co-main status.
Silva, who is officially 1-4-1 in his last six fights, is returning from a two-year hiatus from fighting due to failed drug tests. The Brazilian will take on a fighter 14 years his junior in Adesanya, who is sixth in the UFC middleweight rankings and 15-0 in his MMA career.
Adesanya, a New Zealander who UFC called its breakout star of 2018 in its release, made his UFC debut only a year ago in the preliminary card of UFC 221, the same event that Whittaker had to pull out of. Now, Adesanya gets the biggest fight of his career thanks to a UFC card being suddenly Whittaker-less again.
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