The middleweight division run-in has hit a hiccup, as Paulo Costa has withdrawn from his fight against Robert Whittaker and been replaced by Kelvin Gastelum.
The two title contenders had been due to meet in a championship eliminator on April 17th in the main event, but the Brazilian withdrew from the bout with flu-like symptoms a month out – with his coach claiming that he is still suffering from COVID-19 complications.
It means that Gastelum steps in on 32 days’ notice to fight the former champion, two years after they were originally supposed to do battle.
Whittaker and Gastelum were supposed to fight for the undisputed middleweight championship back at UFC 234 in February 2019, only for Whittaker to withdraw from the bout just hours before the event was due to take place following a hernia and twisted and collapsed bowel which required emergency surgery.
The event was instead headlined by Israel Adesanya and Anderson Silva and when Adesanya got the win, it set up the classic fight between himself and Gastelum just a few months later for the interim title – which Adesanya won via decision after a five round war.
Gastelum would spiral following that defeat, losing to Darren Till and Jack Hermansson too to completely find himself out of the title picture. He recently got back on the winning trail though, with a unanimous decision win over Ian Heinisch at UFC 258 back in February of this year.
Whittaker on the other hand would lose the title to Adesanya later in 2019, but has bounced back from that defeat with back-to-back wins over Till and Jared Cannonier to earn himself the number one contender’s position again.
However with Adesanya moving up to unsuccessfully challenge for the light heavyweight title, the division was put on hold and ‘Bobby Knuckles’ agreed to fight Adesanya’s most recent challenger Costa to solidify his position as the number one contender and stay active.
With Gastelum stepping on to save the fight, Whittaker gets his wish to remain active in Adesanya’s absence while Gastelum jumping the queue to get back into title contention following his slump.
The fight will be a five-round main event and is currently scheduled to take place at the UFC Apex on April 17th 2021.