UFC 234 was supposed to showcase Robert Whittaker, Australia’s first-ever UFC champion, on home soil — but it wasn’t meant to be.
Instead of defending his middleweight title against Kelvin Gastelum in Melbourne, Australia, this weekend, Whittaker underwent emergency surgery to address a severe abdominal hernia. That operation was successful, but there is no timetable for his return.
What’s next for Adesanya and the middleweight division in general? Here is ESPN’s take.
Robert Whittaker, middleweight champion
UFC 234 result: Pulled from the event due to abdominal hernia
Next: Kelvin Gastelum
First and foremost, Whittaker’s health is what matters most right now. This was a frightening situation. UFC president Dana White and Whittaker himself said his condition could have been fatal had it not been handled properly. The 28-year-old’s recovery is far more important than how it affects the division, period.
Provided that recovery goes well and Whittaker is not sidelined an extended amount of time, the only option here is to rebook the fight with Gastelum. You can’t take away Gastelum’s opportunity because of a freak injury to the champion. Adesanya’s win over Silva does not move him to the front of that line.
Kelvin Gastelum, middleweight
UFC 234 result: Fight pulled from the event
Next: Robert Whittaker
Let me say one thing: I know Gastelum took some heat for showing up to UFC 234 with a belt over his shoulder and declaring himself the champ. And I can understand why some would say that was in poor taste.
But we’re talking about a sport where nothing is guaranteed, and Gastelum knew that Adesanya had an opportunity to make a statement that night. Gastelum had no idea how Adesanya’s fight was going to go, or what he might say after. He had little control over how that night was going to play out. I think the guy played the only card he had in an attempt to maintain his place in line — and I can’t hate on him for that.
Israel Adesanya, middleweight
UFC 234 result: Defeated Anderson Silva via unanimous decision
Next: Winner of Whittaker vs. Gastelum
I don’t love this answer, all right? I kind of hate it even. I mean, we don’t even know when Whittaker will be healthy enough to fight Gastelum, and I’m suggesting Adesanya, the UFC’s next potential star, sit and wait for the winner? It’s not ideal, guys, I know. But I think it’s the right call.
Don’t forget, Adesanya fought five times in the past 12 months. So, from that aspect alone, he deserves some rest. As much as I’m intrigued to see him fight the Yoel Romeros and Jacare Souzas of the world, I don’t think it has to be right now.
Rather than book Adesanya in a fight that probably won’t feel as big as the one he just had, put him in a nice pair of overalls (such is his style) and plant him front row whenever Whittaker and Gastelum meet.
Anderson Silva, middleweight
UFC 234 result: Lost to Israel Adesanya via unanimous decision
Next:Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
It’s not easy to be matchmaker for Silva at this point in his career, in my opinion. He just went 15 minutes with a 29-year-old middleweight title contender — in other words, he’s certainly not washed up. But at the same time, I don’t need to see him against a young gun again. I feel that time has passed.
Silva wants to fight at UFC 237 on May 11 in Curitiba, Brazil. He mentioned Nick Diaz, which would be great — but that’s a hard one to bank on. Why not Rua? Silva has fought at light heavyweight before. He’s comfortable there. His speed was always a difference maker there and still could be against Rua.
Two Brazilian legends, meeting in Brazil? Sounds perfect, actually.