UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker should be in the last stages of preparation for his first title defense as the undisputed champion against Luke Rockhold. Injury and illness conspired to steal that opportunity from him, with the UFC 221 main event now being between Rockhold and Yoel Romero for the interim middleweight belt.
Whittaker has spoken to clear up any misunderstanding regarding exactly why he was unable to compete in his adopted homeland of Australia. Speaking at the UFC 221 open work outs in Sydney, Whittaker explained that there were a number of issues keeping him from fighting as originally planned.
“Everyone knows I like to fight injured. Half the fights I’ve taken I’ve always been injured. Just before I got ill, I pulled my hamstring. We could work around it and we were doing things to compensate for it, we were working around it, but then I got a really bad infection and the infection and the antibiotics just took it out of me. I was really struggling to recover and then right at the end of the infection, I got the chickenpox. That’s why I’ve got the scars all over my face. It was an absolute mess. If anyone’s had it, it’s just horrible .”
Once Whittaker withdrew from the proposed match up with Rockhold, the UFC acted quickly to save the main event with Romero stepping in and the fight being made for the interim middleweight title. In a move which is becoming increasingly rare these days, we now have the number 1 and number 2 contenders fighting with the winner expected to fight the champion later this year.
“When they offered this outcome to me I was delighted,” Whittaker added. “The number one and number two contenders get to bash each other, and I was just like, ‘Yes. Good. Please.’ As a fan of this sport, I would’ve paid to watch this fight. This is a fight I think people want to see, and I’m more than happy to bash Yoel again or I’m more than happy to give it to Rockhold as well. We’ll see.”
With reports confirming that Whittaker is back in the gym and training for his return, things are looking good for a reunification bout with either Rockhold or Romero later this year.
“I’m just focused on recovering. I’m gonna let Yoel and Rockhold punch it out a bit, but things are good and I’m looking for a big return mid-year. So let’s see what happens.”