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Robert Whittaker sidelined until early part of 2019 with multiple hand injuries

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MMA: UFC 225-Whittaker vs Romero Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight champion Robert Whittaker suffered a broken right hand in the very first round of his five round championship fight against Yoel Romero at UFC 225 this past June.

But during a recent appearance on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show, “The Reaper” revealed he also suffered ligament damage in his left hand. After undergoing surgery, Whittaker now has a long road to recovery ahead of him, which will keep him out until early 2019.

“I’m not too sure just yet, but I have let Dana know that I definitely won’t be ready before next year. My hand, rehab. Both hands; I have to get to 100 percent with my hands to start rehab. The healing process has to begin before I can ever start a rehab program. And then I need to strengthen my hands back up to 100 percent. Then when I’m back to 100 percent, I would like to get a little bit of training done. Realistically I am looking at February next year.”

Whittaker defeated Romero for the second time, taking home a split decision win in Chicago, Illinois (see it all again here). A few weeks later, it was revealed Kelvin Gastelum would be next in line to challenge for Robert’s 185-pound strap.

Thankfully for both men, they will keep busy while Robert heals up as the two have been pegged as opposing coaches for The Ultimate Fighter season 28 which will air in August of this year. This season of TUF could very well be the last of the ever-popular reality show as part of UFC’s move over to ESPN.

Meanwhile, the rest of the division now has plenty of time to sort itself out to determine the next title contender, as the title fight between Whittaker and Gastelum won’t go down for at least another seven months.

The question is: Who will be the first contender to start calling for an interim belt?