This Saturday's UFC 221 event in Perth, Australia, was built around built around one thing: the homecoming of UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker. So naturally, it was a big shame when Bobby Knuckles was forced to withdraw from the fight three weeks ago and somewhat scary when UFC President Dana White stated that the fight was scrapped due to a serious health issue.
In the days since, the champ has been fairly quiet about what exactly happened. That changed Monday, with an appearance on The MMA Hour where he detailed the series of issues that forced his withdrawal from the bout.
"I had an abscess on my bum, and it was infected, like a big puss buildup," Whittaker stated (h/t MMA Fighting's Shaun Al-Shatti for the transcription). "And the antibiotics, when you take long courses of that antibiotic, you can develop a colon bug. ... I had to get a whole bunch of colon tests and stomach tests to make sure that there's no hole in my stomach."
On its own, the abscess was serious enough that it had Whittaker on antibiotics for weeks. Things went from bad to worse, however, as he came down with a case of the chickenpox. While chickenpox in children is a relatively minor ailment, it is debilitating and potentially deadly for adults.
"When I thought of chicken pox before what I've just been through, I thought of, you know, little red dots all over your body and they're itchy," he said. "No, these were like blisters from head to toe all over my scalp, and because I had so many, some of them were popping and getting infected, and then there were fevers and headaches and nausea."
Despite those issues, Whittaker remained committed to competing at UFC 221 and discussed how he had toughed out injuries in many of his previous fights (including working through an MCL tear sustained before his UFC 213 bout with Yoel Romero). He didn't decide to withdraw, however, until his family and coaching staff had a sit-down with him.
"My coaching staff came to me, my family came to me...almost like an intervention, and said, 'Rob, there is zero chance you're going to be able to fight,'" he recounted earlier in the interview. "'Even if you did get in there, it is so unsafe for you to go out there with no prep and your body as weak as it is.' And I have to listen to them. I have to listen to my coaching staff, that's what they do, and that was the call."
UFC 221 will continue on without Whittaker with Romero stepping in to face top contender Luke Rockhold. While the champ did everything in his power to compete and still seems to be disappointed in how everything crashed down, there was a silver lining, as withdrawing from the fight allowed Whittaker to be present for the birth of his daughter.
All in all, the maladies won't keep Whittaker out of action for too long as he targets a return this summer. Hopefully, he will be back to full speed before long.