Robert Whittaker’s first title defense is going to have to wait.
What was slated to be a homecoming for Whittaker at UFC 221 in Perth, Australia, has now been shelved. The middleweight champion suffered an undisclosed injury and his originally scheduled opponent Luke Rockhold will now fight Yoel Romero for an interim belt in the main event on Feb. 11.
The news was first reported by ESPN and later confirmed by UFC’s Australia/New Zealand Twitter account who shared an article from The West Australian concerning Whittaker’s status.
“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 both outlets. “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.”
Whittaker (19-4) won an interim middleweight title last July at UFC 213 by earning a unanimous decision over Romero, and he was promoted to undisputed status in December after Georges St-Pierre chose to vacate the lineal belt while he deals with colitis. The 27-year-old Sydney-resident has won eight consecutive bouts.
Romero (12-2) was scheduled to fight David Branch at UFC Orlando on Feb. 24, but he will now face Rockhold (16-3), a former UFC and Strikeforce middleweight champion. This will be Romero’s first fight since the loss to Whittaker, while Rockhold most recently defeated Branch by second-round submission via strikes in September.