Reports have emerged regarding nature of the 'personal reasons' behind NZ-born middleweight Robert Whittaker's withdrawal from his bout against Jared Cannonier at UFC 248.
Last week, the former world champion pulled out of the March 7 event in Las Vegas - set to be headlined by New Zealand's Israel Adesanya against Yoel Romero - where he was due to make his first Octagon appearance since losing his title to Adesanya in July.
Multiple media outlets are now reporting that Whittaker has stepped away for an indefinite period to donate bone marrow to his two-year-old daughter, Lilliana.
While he refused to disclose any detail, UFC president Dana White choked back tears when he referred to "selfless" Whittaker's act during an interview in Las Vegas over the weekend.
"The reason Robert Whittaker is not fighting in this fight is one of the most unselfish things I’ve seen in my life," White told Submission Radio.
He’s a good man, he’s a good human being, and I have a lot of respect for him. Good luck to him in what he’s dealing with right now. I can’t put into words and articulate how I feel about Robert Whittaker. He’s the real deal, man.”
The Auckland-born, Sydney-raised fighter used a picture of himself walking with his daughter when he revealed his decision to step away on Instagram.
"Apologies to all my friends and supporters but unfortunately I won't be competing on the UFC 248 fight card," Whittaker wrote.
"There are a few other things going on in my life that I need to give priority to and sort out, so I have had to change my plans.
"But I'll be back soon, bigger and better than ever."
The 29-year-old is regarded as one of the middleweight division's elite fighters. He won nine-straight bouts on his way to being crowned Australia's first UFC world champion in 2018, before that streak was broken by his second-round knockout at the hands of Adesanya at the record-breaking UFC 243 in Melbourne.
The Sydneysider has an extensive and unfortunate history of late-notice fight withdrawals.
In late 2017, Whittaker's first bid for a title against Luke Rockhold at UFC 221 was scuppered by mistreatment of a staph infection just a month removed from the event in Perth.
In February 2019, his title defence against Kelvin Gastelum in the headline act of UFC 234 in Melbourne was cancelled, after he was forced to undergo emergency hernia surgery the night before the event.
Still ranked middleweight's No.1 contender, his fight with Cannonier - one of the division's most promising young talents - was a prime opportunity to press his claims for another shot at the belt.
While there's no time frame for Whittaker's return to the competitive fold, you'd expect White to allow him to step right back in where he left off whenever he's ready to do so.