UFC president Dana White has confirmed the company is working to book Israel Adesanya's next middleweight title defence, with a rematch against Robert Whittaker being "the fight that has to happen."
Adesanya took the title off Whittaker in Melbourne in late 2019 in spectacular fashion with a second-round knockout, and has turned away all challengers to his throne since. Whittaker has gone unbeaten in three bouts against top contenders since losing the title to Adesanya, cementing his claim to a rematch.
Speaking to the Herald, White said it was the fight everyone wanted to see in the division, however there were challenges getting it booked.
"The fight that everybody wants to see and the fight that has to happen is Robert Whittaker. That's what we want to have happen and that's what we're working on," White confirmed.
"When you talk about challenges, look at all the things that are going on in your world right now - you guys are in a serious lockdown.
"I feel for every one of you. You are a very strong-minded, tough people to be able to deal with that s***."
Reports suggested the bout was expected to headline UFC 268 in New York in November, but was not booked due to New Zealand's MIQ limitations. Adesanya's team, however, said they had not seen anything official from the UFC in terms of trying to book the bout for that card.
While the stage is being set for the Kiwi and Australian two to tangle once more, any hopes local fans may have of seeing the bout take place close to home appear to be forlorn.
With Covid-19 causing issues in both Australia and New Zealand, the UFC has no timeline for when it might return Down Under. When asked about it, White responded with bewildered laughter.
"You can't leave your house," White said.
"If I had one of those 8-Balls that told the future, if I shook that three times and looked at it, it would probably say 'outlook is bad'."
Prior to the latest Covid-19 lockdown, many had voiced their desire to see the rematch take place at Eden Park in Auckland, including Adesanya.
But regardless of the lockdown situation, a venue such as Eden Park would not be considered as an option to host a UFC card because it is an open-air stadium.
In more than 570 events in UFC history, only one has been hosted at an open-air venue – UFC 112 which was held in Abu Dhabi in 2010.
White said roofless venues had too much risk involved when it came to hosting UFC events.
"For a fight to happen, all the money and investment that goes into putting on a fight, I just don't trust the weather. Anything can happen; it can rain, it can be too windy, it can be too hot, it can be too humid – there are just so many different variables when you're dealing with the weather and I just don't ever want to take that risk.
"There's too much on the line. If it starts raining, first of all the fans have to sit in the rain, the fighters have to fight in the rain, the canvas gets wet and slippery - it would just absolutely ruin an event. Even too much humidity could make the octagon mat slippery and affect the outcome of some fights. That's the other thing – it's not fair to the fighters."