UFC 221 has just suffered a major loss.
Middleweight champion Robert Whittaker has been forced out of the main event due to an undisclosed injury. With Whittaker out, the UFC has decided to move forward with an interim title fight with former champion Luke Rockhold facing Yoel Romero in the new main event from Perth, Australia on Feb. 10.
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 in the release. “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 was crowned interim champion last July with a win over Romero while Michael Bisping was injured and awaiting an eventual showdown with Georges St-Pierre in November. St-Pierre ultimately defeated Bisping to become champion but then he vacated the belt just a few weeks later.
Whittaker was then declared the undisputed middleweight champion but now that he’s been sidelined another interim belt will be introduced with the winner of Rockhold vs. Romero expected to then unify the title later in 2018.
Romero was already scheduled for a fight a few weeks later at UFC on FOX 28 from Orlando in a middleweight bout against David Branch. Now the former Olympic silver medalist will bump up to the main event at UFC 221 where he’ll face Rockhold with a chance to win UFC gold for the first time while also potentially setting up a rematch with Whittaker later this year.