July 17 (UPI) -- UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker is out until 2019 after suffering multiple hand injuries.
"The Reaper" appeared on ESPN Monday for an interview on Ariel Helwani's MMA Show. The 21-4-0 middleweight last fought on June 9, beating Yoel Romero in UFC 225. He beat Yoel Romero for the title belt at UFC 213 on July 8, 2017.
Whittaker, 27, broke his right hand in the first round of the Romero bout. The 6-foot, 185-pound Australian is only a few weeks removed from surgery. He said his hand received a plate and several screws, but he expects to make a full recovery. He also suffered ligament damage in his left hand in the fight against Romero.
"I definitely won't be ready before next year," Whittaker said in the radio appearance. "My hand rehab -- both hands -- I have to get to 100 percent with my hands before I can start rehab. The healing process has to be done before I can even start a rehab program and then I need strengthen my hand up to 100 percent. Then, once I'm a 100 percent, I'd like to get a little bit of training done when I'm 100 percent."
"Realistically, I'm looking at like February of next year."
Whittaker will serve as one of the coaches for the 28th season of The Ultimate Fighter. The show airs on Aug. 29.
When he returns, Whittaker will eventually take on Kelvin Gastelum for the middleweight title. Gastelum will also appear on The Ultimate Fighter.