Just two-weeks out from UFC 221 we are now hearing that current middleweight champion Robert Whittaker has returned to training. This brings into question when a possible return and title decider could happen.
During the interim title bout with current number one challenger Yoel Romero, Whittaker absorbed 18 kicks to the legs 13 of these being considered power strikes. This seemed to be part of the strategy from Romero who blasted the leading knee of Robert Whittaker from the outset of the fight. Those with a keen memory of the encounter will remember that this took a pronounced effect on Whittaker leaving him hobbling between rounds and after the fight. Throughout the fight this forced Whittaker to be increasingly cautious with foot placement and lift his lead leg to protect it any time Romero would lunge towards it. After persevering to a 48-47 unanimous decision it was made clear that the repeated trauma of the power shots from Romero had caused some substantial injury to the left lead leg of Whittaker. Speaking to the Australian Daily Telegraph Whittaker noted that although he did not fully understand the implications of the injury he had been made aware of a serious grade two medial ligament injury and that it “hurt like hell when it happened”.
It was initially thought and later proven correct that this knee injury would keep Whittaker on the sideline for the remainder of 2017. After being promoted to undisputed middleweight champion after the belt vacancy by Georges St-Pierre (also for medical reasons) Whittaker was scheduled to make his first title defence at UFC 221 against number two contender Luke Rockhold in front of a home crowd in Perth, Australia. Unfortunately however Whittaker had to be pulled for medical reasons as Dana White explained in a post event interview with TSN after UFC 220.
“He had staph infection in his stomach,” White said. “From what I understand it wasn’t treated properly and started to eat away at parts of his organs. He’s in serious condition, so it’s going to be a minute before he’s back, I think. Hopefully it turns around quick, but that stuff is life-threatening if not treated the right way.”
So where does this leave us? Well who really knows. UFC 224 and 225 are still without an announced championship headlining fight and so it is likely that Robert Whittaker will be keeping a keen eye from cage size and a title unification bout could be seen as soon as this summer. It is also possible that the unification fight could be scheduled as a co-main event to Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic superfight happening at UFC 226 in Las Vegas. If this is scheduled it would be exactly one day short of a year in between Whittaker winning and defending the middleweight title for the first time.