UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker on Monday ruled out fighting again in 2018.
Despite coaching opposite Kelvin Gastelum on the next season of The Ultimate Fighter, which concludes with the finale on Nov. 30, Whittaker said that he won’t be able to defend his belt against Gastelum until sometime in early 2019 at the soonest.
Whittaker broke his right hand in his most recent fight, an immediate rematch with Yoel Romero, but added on Monday’s Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show on ESPN that he also damaged ligaments in his left hand. Having had surgery recently on his right hand, Whittaker said he couldn’t realistically fight again before February of 2019.
“I haven’t even started the rehab process yet,” Whittaker said. “Just more letting it heal first before I can implement that. They put a plate and some screws in. Realistically, I’m looking at February next year.”
Generally, when TUF coaches fight, it’s rather soon following the series. Whittaker and Gastelum having to wait at least two months or more certainly hampers the momentum built from their coaching stints on the show.
This latest setback adds fuel to Gastelum’s recent comments, questioning whether or not Whittaker could be the same explosive fighter following two tough, five-round wars with Yoel Romero that left the champion injured after both.
Whittaker, however, believes he still hasn’t fully capitalized on his full potential as a fighter.
“I’m not worried that it’ll have any effect on my performance,” he said. “I haven’t even reached the peak of my potential. This hard fight is going to mold me and shape me as to how I approach fights from here on. I think everyone has to have their mettle tested in a tough fight. That was one of them for me.”