We are just two weeks into the new year and the UFC injury bug has already revealed its ugly head.
Due to an undisclosed injury, UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker has been forced out of his first title defense opposite Luke Rockhold at UFC 221 on Feb. 11 from Perth, Australia. The news was originally reported by ESPN and later confirmed by UFC’s Australia/New Zealand Twitter account.
“I’m beyond disappointed that I’m unable to defend the title in my home country of Australia,” Whittaker said in a statement provided to ESPN and The West Australian. “I hope the fans enjoy what should be a great night of fights at UFC 221 and I look forward to a recovery as soon as possible that will have me back in the Octagon to face the winner of the main event.”
As a result of Whittaker’s injury, Yoel Romero will step in to fight Rockhold for the interim middleweight title.
Romero is coming off a decision loss to Whittaker at UFC 213 this past July. The 40-year-old Cuban was scheduled to return against David Branch at UFC on FOX 28 this February, but will now end his camp early and fill in for an injured “Bobby Knuckles.”
While Rockhold was preparing to fight for the undisputed title he’s still going to have the opportunity to compete for UFC gold despite Whittaker’s withdrawal. Romero is a completely different opponent than Whittaker so it will be interesting to see how Rockhold performs against another elite grappler in the 185-pound division.
Stick with Mania for more news on Whittaker’s injury and UFC 221 removal.