An interim title has been created following an injury to UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker.
Just under one month out from UFC 221, middleweight champion Robert Whittaker is now out of his main event fight vs. former champ Luke Rockhold.
ESPN’s Brett Okamoto reported late Friday night that Whittaker withdrew due to an undisclosed injury, so he won’t be able to fight in front of his home fans in Australia. Replacing Whittaker is the man whom he most recently defeated, Cuban standout Yoel Romero.
“I’m beyond disappointed that I’m unable to defend the title in my home country of Australia,” Whittaker said to 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.”
When Whittaker beat Romero by unanimous decision at UFC 213, it was for the interim belt, and now Romero is once again competing for an interim title, this time against Rockhold. This also leaves David Branch without an opponent, as he was slated to fight Romero at UFC on FOX 28 in Orlando on February 24th.
Romero (12-2) hasn’t fought since the Whittaker bout in July. The 40-year-old was unbeaten at middleweight prior to facing Whittaker, with notable stoppage wins over Chris Weidman, Lyoto Machida, and Derek Brunson. Rockhold (16-3) is coming off a second-round victory vs. David Branch in September’s UFC Pittsburgh main event. It was the 33-year-old’s first fight since his stunning knockout defeat vs. Michael Bisping put an end to his brief reign as UFC champion.
To summarize the middleweight division’s past several months: An interim title was created for Whittaker and Romero, Whittaker won the interim title in July, Georges St-Pierre submitted Michael Bisping to win the actual title in November, then vacated his belt in December, thus promoting Whittaker to undisputed champ status, only for Whittaker to suffer an injury and now another interim title has been created, with the Rockhold-Romero winner fighting Whittaker next.
UFC 221 takes place in Perth on Saturday, February 10th, although the time difference means it’ll technically be Sunday, February 11th in Australia.