UFC Middleweight Champion Robert Whittaker last stepped foot inside the Octagon back in June when he faced Yoel Romero at UFC 225 in a non-title fight.
This was supposed to be Whittaker's first title defense since becoming Middleweight champion, but it was changed to a non-title fight as Romeo missed the weight for the fight.
During the fight against the Soldier of God, The Reaper broke his right hand in the first round but continued to fight for the remaining four rounds to pick up the split decision win.
Whittaker had surgery on his hand this past month, and said during an interview with ESPN that he won't be able to fight again now for UFC until 2019 because he hasn't started the rehab process yet on his right hand.
"I haven't even started the rehab process yet. Just more letting it heal first before I can implement that. They put a plate and some screws in (on the right hand). Realistically I'm looking at February next year."
The 27-year-old has a professional MMA record of 20-4 and hasn't lost since February 2014. When he does return next year, he already has an opponent lined up for him.
Whittaker and top middleweight contender Kelvin Gastelum be coaches on the final season of "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series. They're then expected to compete for the UFC Middleweight title, but no date or venue for the fight has been set.
The Reaper also stated in the interview with ESPN that he doesn't expect his hand injury to affect his performance in his next UFC title defense in 2019.
"I'm not worried that it'll have any effect on my performance. 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."
When Whittaker is able to return to the Octagon, Gastelum will be a tough opponent for him. He has a professional record of 15-3 with one no contest.
He is coming off a split-decision win against Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza in May and has won his last two fights.
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