The fight between Whittaker and Gastelum is an interesting stylistic matchup that can become an instant classic if it gets booked. However, the booking will be the second attempt to put the fight together as the pair were scheduled to fight at UFC 234, albeit for the middleweight title.
Kelvin Gastelum earned a shot at the middleweight title, then held by Robert Whittaker, with a split decision win over Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza in May 2018.
Gastelum and Whittaker were selected as coaches for season 28 of The Ultimate Fighter and later scheduled to fight in the headliner of the UFC 234 PPV event in Melbourne, Australia, on February 10, 2019.
However, the MMA community was surprised when Robert Whittaker was pulled off the card a few hours before the event due to a severe case of Abdominal Hernia.
The co-headliner between Israel Adesanya and Anderson Silva was then moved to the main event slot. Adesanya went on to defeat Silva via unanimous decision and later beat Kelvin Gastelum for the interim middleweight title at UFC 236 as the illness forced Robert Whittaker on the sidelines for the majority of the year. The returning champ lost the title unification bout against Stylebender at UFC 243 in October 2019.
The subsequent career trajectories of Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum kept them out of each other's way. However, the unfortunate bout cancelation due to Paulo Costa's withdrawal became the perfect prelude to the second booking.
Robert Whittaker's illness surprised the UFC doctors
The bout cancelation at UFC 234 happened when Robert Whittaker was moved to the hospital after he complained of severe abdominal pain and started vomiting right after.
The Reaper was diagnosed with a gruesome case of Abdominal Hernia, which is rarely observed in younger people. UFC president Dana White later told the media that the nature of Whittaker's illness was so severe it could have led to a life-threatening situation if the condition had been aggravated mid-fight.
White also revealed that the UFC doctor was surprised to see the Hernia stem in young fighters like Rob Whittaker who was a mere 27 years old at the time.
"His bowel and his intestines poked through a hole. They think he’s had this problem and it’s been going in and out. It’s one of those situations, had it popped up during the fight it could have been fatal for him so this is really serious. Hopefully they popped it back in and sewed it up and if that’s the case, he’ll be four weeks but this was a freak, freak injury... less than one per cent. Our doctor here at the UFC, who has been doing this for 30 years, has never seen it ever in his career and not in a young person. It’s usually in much older people," Dana White said.
Robert Whittaker's loss to Israel Adesanya and the health issues before the fight had given rise to speculation that his best days might be behind him. But the former champ got back to winning ways in his subsequent fights against Darren Till and Jared Cannonier to put all the speculation to rest.