Middleweight champion Robert Whittaker has suffered an undisclosed injury that’s forced him to pull out of his title fight with Luke Rockhold at UFC 221 on February 11th in Perth, Australia.
“I’m beyond disappointed that I’m unable to defend the title in my home country of Australia,” Whittaker told ESPN. “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.”
With just a month to go until the event, UFC officials have moved quickly to find a replacement for Whittaker, and so Yoel Romero will now step in to fight Rockhold for the interim middleweight title in the main event instead.
Romero had been scheduled to fight David Branch at UFC On FOX 28 on February 24th in Orlando, Florida, so he was already in training, but he’ll now have two weeks less to prepare for a higher stakes fight.
The 40-year-old Romero comes into the fight off the back of an interim title fight defeat to the aforementioned Whittaker in July of last year, but prior to that he had been on an eight-fight winning streak that had seen him defeat the likes of Chris Weidman, Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza, Lyoto Machida and Tim Kennedy.
Meanwhile, Rockhold got back to winning ways in September with a submission victory over David Branch, after having lost the middleweight title in a rematch against Michael Bisping back in June of 2016.
Before that, Rockhold had amassed five victories in a row over key 185lb players like Chris Weidman, Lyoto Machida and Bisping.
With Rockhold Vs Romero established as the new main event, UFC 221 proceeds with a card that will also feature Mark Hunt Vs Curtis Blaydes in the co-main event slot.