UFC Middleweight Champion Robert Whittaker has been deemed medically unable to compete and he has been pulled from the main event of UFC 221 according to ESPN, where he was set to defend the gold against former UFC Middleweight Champion Luke Rockhold.
The champion issued the following statement on the matter via Instagram, but neither he or the UFC have revealed exactly what the injury that is preventing the champion from competing:
I would like to apologize to all my supporters and fans of MMA for not being able to put on the show you deserve. I've been ruled medically unable to compete and wont be able to defend on home soil. This card meant so much to me and I'm devastated for not being able to fight. All I can do is focus on getting healthy to come back better than ever. All the best to Yoel and Luke for their fight and ill be waiting...
Rockhold will remain in the card and in the main event, now facing late replacement Yoel Romero for the vacant UFC Interim Middleweight Championship. Romero was slated the fight David Branch next month at UFC On Fox 28, but Branch will now get a new opponent.
Rockhold (16-3-0) is a former UFC Middleweight Champion, defeating Chris Weidman by fourth round TKO at UFC 194 to become champ. Rockhold would lose the gold in his first title defense, which came against Michael Bisping at UFC 199. Rockhold was also the final Strikeforce Middleweight Champion, defeating Ronaldo Souza by decision to win the belt in 2011.
Romero (12-2-0) is going to be competing for the first time since losing a UFC Interim Middleweight Title bout to Robert Whittaker at UFC 213. Romero has seen all but one of his UFC bouts go to the third round and five of those fights ended with a finish. Romero only suffered a single defeat outside of the UFC auspices and that came to Rafael Cavalcante at Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov.
UFC 221 takes place on Saturday, February 10 from the Perth Arena in Perth, Australia with Luke Rockhold and Yoel Romero headlining. Fightful is providing live coverage of the event, with a post-show podcast to follow.