Whittaker eyes title defence on home soil
ROBERT Whittaker is a chance of defending his UFC middleweight title on Australian soil after discussions with company officials now have him set for a return in early 2019.
Despite initially vowing to defend his middleweight strap later this year at Madison Square Garden, Whittaker said his next fight will now be in either "February or March" of 2019.
While the UFC has no events currently scheduled that far ahead, the Sydney striker's management will push to headline on home soil given the promotion has successfully held two of its three previous Australian blockbusters in February timeslots -- UFC 110 in 2010 and UFC 127 the following year.
As revealed over the weekend, Australia's first UFC champ will make his next title defence against rising American star Kelvin Gastelum after the pair were announced as coaches of The Ultimate Fighter reality TV series.
Whittaker and his family head to Las Vegas on Monday for what will be eight weeks of filming in the world's fight capital.
And as for the idea of heading a UFC Pay-Per-View at home?
"At this stage, nobody from the UFC has said anything but it would be great if I could have a title fight here in Australia.
"Initially, I hoped to be right (in time for UFC 230 at Madison Square garden) because I really wanted to fight again this year. But with the hand, and the other injuries I've sustained from the Romero fight, I think right now the focus needs to be on healing my body.
"And given my position, there is no point rushing.
"Because getting back to 100 per cent is one thing, but working at 100 per cent is something else entirely.
"And given one of my main goals has always been improving my skill set, to do that I need to be working out at 100 per cent. So that's why my return will likely be early next year, either February or March."
The UFC announced on Sunday that it will return to Australia at the end of this year, with a Fight Night card scheduled for Adelaide on December 2.
Given Whittaker is a world champion and growing pay-per-view draw however, there is no chance of him appearing on that card.
Only last month, Whittaker's manager Titus Day said his client was keen to headline a UFC card slated for Madison Square Garden in November.
However, the fighter revealed discussions with both his team and the UFC meant early 2019 was now the more likely timeframe for his showdown with Gastelum, who wins the shot ahead of US fighters Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman.
Asked about defending against Gastelum, Whittaker said: "I've never cared who I fight.
"And that's something I just say, I'll fight anyone, it's something I've lived up to my whole career. And I'm proud of that.
"So Gastelum, Weidman, Rockhold, it doesn't matter.
"I'm just glad I can see my opponent this far out. I've still got a plate and some screws in my broken hand so, right now, the immediate focus is on my rehabilitation for that.
"And the next eight weeks in Las Vegas, it won't be a holiday.
"I'm going there to work.
"I'm taking two of my trainers and have some contacts over there, guys who are going to work with me on my wrestling and ji-jitsu. I'll also likely do some work at the UFC Performance Institute will I'm there too."
February seems the preferred month for UFC officials when bringing big shows to Australia.
The only break from tradition was UFC 193, when 56,000 fans packed out Melbourne's Etihad Stadium in November, 2015 to see Ronda Rousey knocked out by rank outsider Holly Holm.