Robert Whittaker was thrust into an unenviable position Friday night.
Whittaker (19-4), the reigning UFC middleweight champion, was forced to withdraw from his first scheduled title defense on Feb. 11 at UFC 221 due to an undisclosed injury. As a result, the UFC scheduled an interim title bout between top contenders Luke Rockhold and Yoel Romero as UFC 221’s replacement main event, which takes place at the Perth Arena in Whittaker’s home country of Perth, Australia.
Whittaker released a statement regarding his unfortunate withdrawal early Saturday morning on social media. That statement can be read below.
I would like to apologize to all my supporters and fans of MMA for not being able to put on the show you deserve. I’ve been ruled medically unable to compete and wont be able to defend on home soil. This card meant so much to me and I’m devastated for not being able to fight. All I can do is focus on getting healthy to come back better than ever. All the best to Yoel and Luke for their fight and ill be waiting…
With Whittaker out of the event, Romero (12-2) gets another crack at the interim UFC middleweight title. The 40-year-old Olympic silver medalist has racked up a 8-1 record in the UFC’s 185-pound division, with his lone loss coming in a razor thin decision loss to Whittaker at UFC 213.
Rockhold (16-3), meanwhile, will be forced to adjust to a change in opponent on less than a month’s notice. A former Strikeforce and UFC middleweight champion, Rockhold rebounded from his stunning loss to Michael Bisping with a Sept. 2017 second-round stoppage over David Branch at UFC Pittsburgh.