HE COULD HAVE DIED

Doc­tors’ chill­ing warn­ing to Aussie

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - Tabform: P23 - NICK WALSHAW

ROBERT Whit­taker wanted to head­line UFC 234 with both a her­nia and twisted and col­lapsed bowel — and his with­drawal came only af­ter doc­tors warned he could die from a body shot.

Sched­uled to de­fend his UFC ti­tle in Mel­bourne yes­ter­day, Whit­taker was in­stead rushed to hos­pi­tal at 3am for dual emer­gency surg­eries.

UFC pres­i­dent Dana White last night re­vealed the champ had wanted to ig­nore the pain and fight Amer­i­can Kelvin Gastelum, and only re­lented af­ter be­ing told a punch to the stom­ach could kill him.

ROBERT Whit­taker will not be stripped of his mid­dleweight ti­tle — de­spite hav­ing now with­drawn from con­sec­u­tive Aus­tralian ti­tle fights — thanks largely to his still want­ing to com­pete min­utes be­fore two bouts of emer­gency surgery early yes­ter­day morn­ing.

Slated to head­line UFC 234 in Mel­bourne yes­ter­day, Whit­taker was in­stead rushed to hos­pi­tal at 3am suf­fer­ing from a twisted and col­lapsed bowel, plus an in­ter­nal her­nia of the in­tes­tine.

UFC pres­i­dent Dana White said the 28-year-old had to be con­vinced by wife Sofia and fa­ther Jack not to take the Rod Laver Arena bout, es­pe­cially af­ter sur­geons ex­plained that a body shot from Amer­i­can chal­lenger Kelvin Gastelum could kill him.

His man­ager Ti­tus Day also said Whit­taker was want­ing to fight “about five min­utes be­fore go­ing un­der the knife”.

Yet de­spite the champ’s at­ti­tude, and the se­ri­ous­ness of his in­jury, Gastelum sug­gested he should be awarded the ti­tle via for­feit — “I turned up to fight” — and, to make his point, sat ca­ge­side through­out the event with a UFC belt (bor­rowed from close friend and fly­weight champ Henry Cejudo) slung over his shoul­der.

Ris­ing New Zealand star Is­rael Ade­sanya also used his Oc­tagon in­ter­view af­ter beat­ing Brazil­ian great An­der­son Silva to say: “I showed up to work, a lot of peo­ple didn’t.”

None of that washed with the UFC boss, how­ever.

“Lis­ten, Rob Whit­taker got hurt,” he said. “His colon and in­tes­tine popped through his stom­ach, so I think we can give him a pass on not show­ing up to work.

“There are guys out there you can ridicule but Rob Whit­taker isn’t one of them.

“This was su­per dan­ger­ous. It wasn’t some bull­shit like some of the guys re­cently who have turned down fights.

“And his fam­ily, they were ac­tu­ally fight­ing with him be­cause he didn’t want to go to the hos­pi­tal.

“He was go­ing to fight, push through and fight.

“Thank God he didn’t though. If he took a shot to his stom­ach dur­ing the fight he could have died. That’s what the doc­tors said.”

Given Whit­taker’s re­cov­ery has been slated at be­tween four to six weeks, White said the Aus­tralian would now be given time to heal up and then de­fend his belt against ei­ther Gastelum or Ade­sanya.

That fight will al­most cer­tainly not be held in Aus­tralia, which is un­likely to bother Whit­taker, who a year ago was also forced out of UFC 221 in Perth with both in­fec­tion and a se­ri­ous case of chick­en­pox.

Else­where, the UFC pres­i­dent also praised Aus­tralian fight fans for pack­ing out Rod Laver Arena with celebri­ties, in­clud­ing Hol­ly­wood megas­tars Matt Da­mon and Chris Hemsworth.

De­spite the Aussie’s late with­drawal, only a hand­ful of fans took up the UFC’s of­fer to re­fund tick­ets.

The com­pany posted a sell­out crowd of more than 15,000, and a gate of $3.5 mil­lion.

Quizzed on what sort of fi­nan­cial hit the UFC had taken, White told re­porters: “Were you at the fights tonight? Did you see an open seat?”

Robert Whit­taker in hos­pi­tal with wife Sofia af­ter surgery yes­ter­day.

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