The UFC's decision to book a middleweight title fight between defending champion Israel Adesanya and Marvin Vettori on June 12 took many by surprise this past week, as it was widely assumed the next title shot would go to former champion Robert Whittaker.
But speaking to ESPN on Sunday, Whittaker (23-5) revealed the UFC did offer him the fight -- almost immediately after he defeated Kelvin Gastelum via decision at UFC Fight Night on April 17 in Las Vegas.
"More or less, I was offered the fight about an hour after my fight with Gastelum," Whittaker said. "There was just no way, physically, I could do that. Not only do I have injuries from that last fight to deal with, I have to fly home to Australia, and then two weeks in [mandatory] isolation. I have to see how my body was feeling, and then I'd have to prepare; all by June. It was impossible."
UFC president Dana White told ESPN last week that Whittaker, who surrendered his title to Adesanya in 2019 in a TKO loss, will face the winner of the championship bout on June 12. Whittaker said he is content with that arrangement.
"I can see what Izzy is trying to do," Whittaker said. "He's trying to get me to accept the fight injured, on short notice, with all odds against me, but there was just no way I could get there physically. I do want that fight, and my next fight will be for the title. It has to be. He was just really adamant about fighting on that date and I can't do it. I'm happy to fight the winner after."
For now, the 30-year-old is fulfilling a mandatory 14-day quarantine in his native Australia. He said he is dealing with a sore hand and shin from the Gastelum fight, and will further assess his injuries once he's out of isolation. The timing of his eventual title fight will obviously depend on the health of Adesanya or Vettori after June 12, but Whittaker anticipates fighting for the belt by the end of 2021.
As for who he thinks will win the June title fight, Whittaker said he could see it going either way.
"It's hard to say, isn't it?" Whittaker said. "Their first fight in 2018 was pretty close. I think Izzy is really good. I could see Izzy taking that fight. But Vettori is tough as nails and he seems to take high-level opponents to a place where they are uncomfortable because of his resilience and toughness. Plus, he has a good skill set. I think Vettori will know what to expect from Adesanya this time, because he knows the level of striking he brings. In saying that, however, I do think Adesanya has gotten better since the last time they fought. So, I guess I'm on the fence.
"I don't care who wins. Whatever. I hope they beat the hell out of each other to be honest."