Much like mixed martial arts fans worldwide, UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker found the co-main event at UFC 234 a "curious" one.

Whittaker will headline the card in Melbourne in February defending his belt against American Kelvin Gastelum. But before that fight, Kiwi Israel Adesanya will meet UFC legend Anderson Silva in a title eliminator – with the winner getting the next shot at the middleweight belt.

Before the fight was announced, Adesanya teased it would be one to shock the UFC world, and the middleweight champion was no exemption to that.

"I'm very curious," Whittaker told the Herald. "I think it's going to be a very interesting contest."

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Anderson Silva holds the record for the longest title reign in the UFC. Photo / Getty Images
Anderson Silva holds the record for the longest title reign in the UFC. Photo / Getty Images

[Read more: Anderson Silva bout just another chapter in Israel Adesanya's life's story]

Silva, 43, hasn't fought in the UFC since February last year when he beat Derek Brunson by unanimous decision. In his five bouts before that he suffered four losses and had one no contest.

Adesanya, on the other hand, fought four times this year and is unbeaten in 15 professional MMA bouts.

With the winner getting a shot at the belt, should Whittaker retain it against Gastelum, he has a feeling of which of the two he'll meet next.

"He's not what he used to be," Whittaker said of Silva. "He's not the same man he was five or six years ago.

"I think Israel's better, I think he's just better."

A bout between Adesanya and the Kiwi-born Whittaker would be a prime main event candidate for a UFC return to New Zealand, which Whittaker believed wouldn't be too far away.

And while a bout against Adesanya undoubtedly lays in his future – be it for the title or not – Gastelum poses a more pressing challenge.

The American is a well-rounded fighter and sure to test the champion.

Whittaker hasn't fought since beating Yoel Romero in June, during which he broke his right hand. Having time to recover, Whittaker said he felt like "the right hand's stronger than the left hand" and the injury had allowed him to level up in other areas.

"It was a pretty straightforward fix. It was a clean break so nothing too dramatic.

"If anything it made me a little better focusing on my other assets and skill sets while I couldn't use the right hand, but now I'm bringing it back into my game I'm better for it."