Sidelined after having emergency surgery, UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker could only watch as his division was taken over.

Now, he's not the only one who holds a UFC middleweight title.

The Kiwi-born Whittaker's career was put on hold in February when he had to withdraw from his title defence against American Kelvin Gastelum. With the champion out of action until at least August, the UFC booked an interim title fight between Gastelum and Kiwi Israel Adesanya, with the latter taking the spoils in a fight of the year contender in Atlanta last month.

It's been a tough situation for Whittaker, but he can see the bright side of his position as he sets his sights on a title unification bout against Adesanya in the not too distant future.

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"Honestly, I dodged a bullet," he told the Herald. "If I didn't get surgery on fight day like I did I would've had lifelong implications; it could have stunted or stopped my career entirely.

"I've just got to count my blessings, there's a silver lining to everything and I'm looking forward to this fight."

The bout between Whittaker and Adesanya is yet to be officially booked as the UFC were still to finalise their schedule for the latter months of the year. After Adesanya won the interim title, UFC boss Dana White said the unification bout would be in Australia, and rumours have begun to circulate of a date at Sydney's Bankwest Stadium in October.

Israel Adesanya won the UFC interim middleweight title in April. Photo / Getty Images
Israel Adesanya won the UFC interim middleweight title in April. Photo / Getty Images

For Whittaker, having the bout in either Australia or New Zealand is a non-negotiable aspect. The 28-year-old has been scheduled to defend his belt in Australia twice, but both times has been forced to withdraw due to injury or illness.

"It's hard not to let superstition creep in at that point, but I'm staying strong and am going to give it one last crack to try to accomplish one of my lifelong goals which is to defend my title in my hometown.

"I would've been happy fighting in Melbourne, but my goal is to bring it in Sydney … and after I defend it in Sydney, I'll bring it to New Zealand next."

Whittaker has always embraced his Kiwi roots, and has rallied a lot of support from the New Zealand audience over his career. However, when Adesanya claimed the interim title last month, many fans overlooked Whittaker openly representing New Zealand to bill the fight as a New Zealand versus Australia affair.

In Whittaker's eyes, that's beside the point.

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"There are a couple of facts. Fact one: I was born in Middlemore Hospital (in Auckland); and fact two: I was raised in Australia. That's just how it is.

"I definitely don't see it as New Zealand versus Australia, what I do see it as is a great time for New Zealand mixed martial arts – to have all the spotlight on two guys that represent the country, we're taking all the spotlight from the entire world down here and that's a blessing in my eyes."