UFC 221: Robert Whittaker issues statement on withdrawal from Luke Rockhold bout

USA TODAY Sports

UFC Middleweight Champion Robert Whittaker is out of his fight against Luke Rockhold at UFC 221.

UFC officials confirmed the news via ESPN on late Friday night.

"I'm beyond disappointed that I'm unable to defend the title in my home country of Australia", Whittaker said. The new main event at UFC 221 will still have championship gold resting in the balance as Rockhold vs. Romero will fight for an interim strap with the victor facing Whittaker in a unification bout later in 2018.

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.

UFC 221 is set to go down Saturday, February 10, from the Perth Arena in Perth, Australia.

The UFC made the decision to do so after Whittaker was forced to withdraw from the event, at which he was supposed to defend his recently upgraded strap against Luke Rockhold, due to an undisclosed injury. Customers who purchased tickets are eligible for a full refund. Rockhold would lose the gold in his first title defense, which came against Michael Bisping at UFC 199.

33-year-old Rockhold, meanwhile, defeated Branch via TKO back in September. While Whittaker vs. Rockhold was a compelling fight, the event features no other worldwide draws outside fan-favorite heavyweight Mark Hunt, who is set to face the unheralded Curtis Blaydes.

The switch is yet another odd turn in the UFC's middleweight division. St-Pierre ultimately defeated Bisping to become champion but then he vacated the belt just a few weeks later. Those wins included victories over Chris Weidman, Ronaldo Souza and Lyoto Machida.

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