By Christopher Reive in Melbourne
Kiwi-born UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker insisted he would be able to fight in his headline spot at UFC 234 in Melbourne on Sunday until five minutes before surgery.
The Sydney-based fighter was forced to withdraw from the card early on Sunday morning due to a twisted and collapsed bowel and a sports hernia which required duel emergency surgeries to repair.
A statement released by his management has revealed Whittaker was reluctant to withdraw even after suffering the shock illness.
"Up until five minutes before going into surgery, Rob was insisting he would fight, but advice was that a blow to his stomach could be fatal."
As a result, the "people's main event" has become the official main event with Kiwi phenom Israel Adesanya taking on Brazilian legend Anderson Silva.
The cancellation of the bout poses the question of whether or not Gastelum will get the first shot at Whittaker's belt when he returns from injury, with the winner of the fight between Adesanya and Silva guaranteed a title shot.
Elevated to the co-main is the lightweight matchup between Albuquerque action hero Lando Vannata and surging Brazilian Marcos Mariano.
Despite being elevated to the main event, Adesanya's bout will remain a three-round fight.
This is the second time in 12 months that Whittaker has had to withdraw from a title defence on home soil, after injury forced him out of the card at UFC 221 in Perth last February.
ESPN first reported the news and said Whittaker's withdrawal was not a result of weight cutting issues.
"He was taken to hospital and diagnosed with a hernia," ESPN reporter Brett Okamoto revealed. "It wasn't a weight-cutting related issue or anything like that, it's just a very unfortunate hernia issue which may even require a procedure."
UFC President Dana White later confirmed the 28-year-old would be undertaking surgery today.
The Sydney-based star has experienced a horror run of injuries and illness throughout his career, including a gruesome abscess infection which forced him to pull out of UFC 221 in 2018.
Due to change in the main event, customers may request a full refund of their purchased tickets at the point of sale.