Robert Whittaker Hopes for Early 2019 Return Following Problems with Both Hands

Middleweight champion Robert Whittaker is aiming for a return to the cage in early 2019 after surgery on one hand and finding out he has a deformity in the other.

Robert Whittaker knows he’s done fighting for the year but he hopes to make his return in early 2019.

That’s the latest from the UFC’s reigning middleweight champion, who squeaked by Yoel Romero in a five round war back in June for the second defense of his title.

Following that win, Whittaker was offered a coaching position on the latest season of “The Ultimate Fighter” opposite his next opponent, Kelvin Gastelum.

While it’s typically customary for the coaches from the season to face off after the show has aired, Whittaker won’t be ready to return in time to make that happen thanks to some serious problems with his hands that will keep him sidelined for several more months.

“I had surgery on my right hand only. I got a plate put in there and some screws. The left hand, it’s called a bootlegged deformity I think. It’s where the ligament down the middle splits so I’m just trying to deal with that right now,” Whittaker said when speaking to reporters in Los Angeles on Monday.

“I’ve already started with my strength and conditioning and rehab trying to get the full range of motion and movement back in both hands. It’s kind of playing it by ear right now. I’m kind of just testing it to see where my threshold is, what I can do right now. Once my hands both feel great, then I can go talk to the doctor and talk about full training.”

While nothing is set in stone until his hands heal, Whittaker hopes he’ll be ready to defend his title early next year.

Whittaker already sat out for the better part of a year dealing with a separate set of issues that put him out of action for a big part of 2017 and the first half of 2018 as well. Now he’s dealing with a separate problem that will put Whittaker on the shelf until next year and he’s obviously anxious to get back into the cage again.

“I’m looking to fight early next year,” Whittaker said. “That’s when I think I’ll be at my best, when you can expect me at 100-percent. The thing is with both hands injured, I want to not only get better to fight. I want to get better and then train at 100-percent.

“I want to increase my skill set at 100-percent so by the next time that I step into the Octagon, I’m better than I was before.”

As far as his matchup against Gastelum goes, Whittaker feels like his fellow “Ultimate Fighter” winner is dangerous everywhere with good striking and a solid ground game as well.

That said, Whittaker isn’t too concerned about the weapons that Gastelum is bringing to their fight because ultimately he’s still going to be out gunned.

“To be honest I just think I’m better,” Whittaker said about Gastelum. “I think I’m better across the board.”

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Damon Martin is a veteran mixed martial arts journalist who has been covering the industry since 2003 with bylines on FOX Sports, CNN, Bleacher Report and numerous other outlets.