UFC interim middleweight champion Robert Whittaker was assured a shot at unifying his belt with that of current champion Michael Bisping after he defeated Yoel Romero at UFC 213 in July. Unfortunately, an aggravated knee injury put him on the sideline for the near term, and now, Georges St-Pierre‘s return to the Octagon is going to keep him out of action a little longer than planned.
Whittaker won the interim belt in a battle with fellow top contender Romero in July. With the Bisping vs. St-Pierre bout having been nixed in the weeks leading up to their UFC 213 bout, the winner was assured a shot at Bisping to unify the middleweight straps. As is always the case, however, plans changed.
Whittaker aggravated a lingering knee injury during the fight with Romero, which meant he would have to take a little extra time off before being able to challenge Bisping. That wouldn’t be a significant factor, however, as Bisping has also been on the mend, and a little added time off for him probably wouldn’t hurt his preparation.
After UFC president Dana White had grown tired of waiting for St-Pierre to be ready to fight Bisping, as was the original plan, he shifted gears and promised St-Pierre to the winner of the recent bout between welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia at UFC 214.
Woodley won the bout, but White was so put off by what he deemed a lackluster performance, he yanked St-Pierre from the options for Woodley’s next opponent. Knowing Whittaker wasn’t going to be full strength right away, he instead put St-Pierre back in the fight with Bisping. The two will square off in the UFC 217 main event on Nov. 4 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
You’d think that Whittaker, who said recently that he likely could have been ready for Bisping if needed by November, would be angry at being snubbed, but he’s not. The 26-year-old champion took the shift in the ever-fluid middleweight landscape in stride.
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“Yeah, the injury doesn’t matter, to be honest,” Whittaker told ESPN recently. “Michael’s been bloody harping about that (St-Pierre) fight for how long? The UFC does what it wants. That’s just how it is.”
He went on to explain he likely could have fought on Nov. 4 if asked.
“I would have had to speak to my doctors and coaches, of course, but it’s something I would have considered,” Whittaker said. “But Michael Bisping versus Georges St-Pierre is a money fight, and the UFC loves money fights.”
There’s certainly no arguing that statement. While not the promoter of record, the UFC has slashed much of its August slate of events to put its promotional muscle behind lightweight champion Conor McGregor, who is slated for a boxing superfight with undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather on Aug. 26 in Las Vegas.
Though McGregor currently sits atop the UFC food chain, St-Pierre’s return injects another tremendous draw to the UFC’s roster of superstars. Whittaker understands that and realizes that he’ll have to bide his time to get to that same level, which means he’ll have to sit on the sidelines at a time like this.
He doesn’t feel slighted or passed over in the division by the former welterweight kingpin’s return.
“Georges isn’t even in this division. It’s not as if someone in the top 10 is jumping the queue. This is a money fight. That’s exactly what it is. It doesn’t bother me. People are going to do what they want. I can’t get upset if it doesn’t work out to my plans, because let’s face it, the UFC is a roller coaster.”
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