UFC champ Robert Whittaker says 'realistically' he can't defend title until early 2019

Kelvin Gastelum was hopeful that his UFC middleweight title shot against champion Robert Whittaker would happen sooner than later, but it appears that won’t be the case.

Whittaker announced today that he won’t be able to defend his belt before the year ends because of injuries suffered against Yoel Romero last month and suggested February as “realistically” the earliest he’ll be able to fight.

“I haven’t even started the rehab process yet,” Whittaker told ESPN.com. “Just more letting it heal first before I can implement that. They put a plate and some screws in (the right hand). Realistically I’m looking at February next year.”

Whittaker broke his right hand during his UFC 225 non-title bout with Romero, which hindered the champ for four-plus rounds and forced him into a gutsy performance to earn a hard-fought split decision. Whittaker also said he tore a ligament in his left hand.

Gastelum said earlier this month that he hoped the title fight would occur at one of the December pay-per-views after it was announced that Gastelum (15-3 MMA, 10-3 UFC) and Whittaker (20-4 MMA, 10-3 UFC) would serve as coaches on Season 28 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series.

Gastelum, 26, has lost just once in his past six fights and has taken little damage along the way. The 27-year-old Whittaker, meanwhile, is coming off consecutive five-round battles with Romero, both of which he won by narrow margins and endured injuries in both. For that reason, Gastelum has questioned Whittaker’s condition moving forward.

“I don’t know if he’s going to be the same fighter after these fights, after these wars that he’s been in,” Gastelum told reporters backstage at UFC 226. “It takes a toll on the body, so we’ll see how he comes out after this hand surgery that he had.”

For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, visit the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie

Read the full article here: UFC champ Robert Whittaker says 'realistically' he can't defend title until early 2019