Just when you thought the UFC’s middleweight division was about to solidify its pecking order, champion Robert Whittaker is now out of UFC 221.
According to the promotion, Whittaker has been forced to withdraw from of his February 10 bout against former champ Luke Rockhold has been ruled medically unable to compete in from of his fellow Australians with “several significant injuries.”
“I’m beyond disappointed that I’m unable to defend the title in my home country of Australia,” Whittaker expressed in a statement. “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.”
Rockhold will still fight for a title – the dreaded interim variety – in the show’s main event against Yoel Romero, who is coming off July’s unanimous decision defeat to Whittaker for the vacant interim belt.
Former UFC middleweight champ Georges St-Pierre vacated the the crown in December after being diagnosed with colitis. With St-Pierre’s health up in the air, in addition to his public statements of not wanting to remain in the larger middleweight class after dethroning Michael Bisping in November to capture the title in his return bout, Whittaker was stripped of his interim status and promoted to the UFC’s outright middleweight champion.
Because Whittaker’s injuries were not disclosed, it is unknown when “The Reaper” will return to action.
The Australian making his first title defense in his homeland was the card’s major selling point. Needless to say, Whittaker’s abrupt exit is a drastic blow to the already weak lineup.
Because of that, the UFC is offering customers a full refund of purchased tickets at point of sale.
And just like that, the UFC’s middleweight class will once again have a champion and interim champ. Great…
Perth Arena in Perth, Australia hosts UFC 221.
Here is the card’s updated lineup:
Teruto Ishihara vs. Jose Quinonez
Mizuto Hirota vs. Ross Pearson
Israel Adesanya vs. Rob Wilkinson
Cyril Asker vs. Tai Tuivasa
Jeremy Kennedy vs. Alex Volkanovski
Daichi Abe vs. Luke Jumeau
Li Jingliang vs. Jake Matthews
Tyson Pedro vs. Saparbek Safarov
Jussier Formiga vs. Ben Nguyen
Curtis Blaydes vs. Mark Hunt
Damien Brown vs. “Maestro” Dong Hyun Kim
Luke Rockhold vs. Yoel Romero (for interim UFC middleweight title)