It might have been the biggest day in Australian MMA history, but as is sometimes the cases, the fickle fight gods had other plans.
Still, if it wasn’t necessarily the biggest day, a packed Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne cheered and carried on as if it was. The fighters carried the weight of the missing bout, making sure the fans got their money’s worth.
After a surreal start to Sunday’s festivities, the crowd and the athletes reminded everyone why Australian UFC events have few peers around the globe.
These are the UFC 234 talking points.
Main Event Raincheck
The biggest story of the card was lamentably for the fight that didn’t happen. New broke early Sunday morning in Melbourne that middleweight champion Robert Whittaker was suffering from a severe abdominal injury requiring emergency surgery.
The nature of the game makes it a given that injuries occur and fights are sometimes cancelled. This one felt particularly devastating to many, as Whittaker appeared healthy, strong and on-weight just hours earlier at the official weigh-ins, and had looked particularly strong and healthy at open workouts.
But a statement put out by Whittaker’s management painted a grim picture, saying in part “Up until 5 minutes before going into surgery Rob was insisting he would fight, but advice was that a blow to his stomach could be fatal.”
His would-be opponent, Kelvin Gastelum, handled the situation with characteristic class, writing on his social media that he wished Whittaker a “speedy recovery champ! Get well soon!”
Early estimates indicate that Whittaker could recover from his surgery in 4-6 weeks. As such, there’s reason to hope the two can finish their business sooner than later.
The Last Stylebender has said all along that he wants to be the “First Israel Adesanya” not the “Next Anderson Silva” or the next anyone.
Still, as the two square off as the new main event for UFC 234, it was impossible not to see the influence The Spider has had on the New Zealand star, and the war that ensured was nearly a three-round recreation of the famous Spiderman meme.
Vintage Silva ducking, weaving, taunting and showboating were in abundance from both men, and while Adesanya would leave the arena with the win, Silva had little to be embarrassed about with one of his strongest performances in recent memory.
“He’s still got it, make no mistake,” confirmed Adesanya.
Content to wait until his next fight is for a belt, Adesanya mused about making a return trip to his native Nigeria and reflect on the brilliant five-fight year he’s just undertaken.
“This was history in the making. This was fun.”
Around The Card
Montana De La Rosa now holds her new division’s record for most submissions when she secured her third in three fights against Nadia Kassem. The Performance of the Night effort also ties her for the most wins in that same division with veterans Joanne Calderwood and Jessica Eye.
Devonte Smith took home the other performance with his thrilling TKO of Dong Hyun Ma. That’s five KO/TKO victories in his last five pro fights, and the already-stacked lightweight division finds itself with yet another comer.
Israel Adesanya’s teammates at City Kickboxing, Kai Kara-France and Shane Young continued to build repute for the excellence of their gym, and the dominance of MMA in the Oceania region. Young used his Octagon speech to bring awareness to mental health issues.
Despite the loss of a championship bout, Rod Laver Arena remained a sellout, and the unrivaled fan base coaxed some heroic performances out of the athetes.
“I love Australia. This place is insane,” said UFC president Dana White.
“The main event with the champion falls out and the place was packed like nothing happened to the card. I love it. I’d literally come here every weekend if we could.”
Steve Latrell is a writer and producer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheUFSteve