Robert Whittaker expects to sign off on a UFC 271 title blockbuster within days, with the Aussie's team confirming a February showdown with Kiwi middleweight champ Israel Adesanya is now the "very likely" option.
Speaking with News Corp on Friday, Whittaker's agent Titus Day confirmed rumours suggesting the headliner, initially slated for UFC 270 in January, will now be put back by a month.
Day revealed the delay was due to Adesanya being unable to get back into New Zealand in January because of the ongoing Covid quarantine restrictions in his hometown of Auckland.
While other UFC fighters from his City Kick Boxing gym will be competing overseas in coming months – most notably Dan Hooker, Brad Riddell and Kai Kara-France – none have been guaranteed a return flight under the country's strict re-entry requirements.
As a result, UFC officials are now expected to delay the hyped middleweight title rematch to ensure Adesanya, after fighting, can return home to New Zealand without issue.
"So UFC 271 is now the most likely date," Day explained of the February 13 card.
"Very likely, in fact.
"And we've told the UFC to send the contracts.
"Rob is ready to go. He can fight December, January, February … he's in great shape and ready to go."
Only last month, UFC president Dana White suggested January was the expected date for a rematch between the two arch rivals, who first fought in 2019 before 60,000 fans at Melbourne's Marvel Arena.
Initially, White wanted the middleweight stars to headline next month's UFC 268 Madison Square Garden card – however those ongoing issues surrounding MIQ has now seen it pushed back twice to early 2022.
Asked at the time about getting Adesanya's travel issues sorted, White said: "Listen, I don't want to be all cocky and s***, but we will do everything in our power to get that worked out.
"That's a fight we want to make so we're working on it. I will get that done.
"Although you know what sucks? With everything that's going on right now, when you think about that fight, that fight should be done over there (in Australia or New Zealand).
"But that ain't gunna happen."
Should Whittaker win the rematch, and become Australia's second reigning UFC champ alongside Alex Volkanovski, a third fight would almost certainly be held in Australia midway through next year.
Quizzed on the most recent delay, Day said: "Apparently it has something to do with Adesanya being able to get back into New Zealand from America after the fight.
"But it's no bother for Rob. He's fine to have a little more time."
Certainly the change means Whittaker will now be able to spend almost his entire fight camp preparing out of a new Smeaton Grange gym which, seven times larger than his current location, is being billed as Australia's premier fight gym.
"It's absolutely five star," Day said of the complex, which opens in December. "Everything about it will be state of the art."
The agent also confirmed Whittaker will spend part of this camp sparring with undefeated Australian boxer Tim Tszyu, who has his own fight booked against Japanese rival Takeshi Inoue in Sydney on November 17.