Robert Whittaker, UFC middleweight champion has been pulled out of his first title defense opposite Luke Rockhold at UFC 221 on Feb. 11 from Perth, Australia.
As a result of Whittaker’s injury, Yoel Romero will step in to compete Rockhold for the interim middleweight title.
While not the best circumstances for all parties involved, Rockhold was preparing to fight for the undisputed title he’s still going to have the chance to compete for UFC gold despite Whittaker’s withdrawal.
“It’s not an ideal situation. Obviously, I am going across the world to fight a guy I could fight down the street,” said Luke on a recent edition of The MMA Hour. “I wanted Whitaker, have wanted that fight for a long time and it was a good time to make it happen, but he’s got health issues.”
“Yoel was the option right off the bat, and I’m ready to fight as long as the money’s right, the belt’s on the line,” Rockhold continued. “I had a good conversation with (UFC general counsel) Hunter Campbell and we worked out the situation, and we have an interim belt, which, it’s a good situation for me. Robert will out for over a year now, and champions have to stay active. And when you’re not, I think this is a justified situation. So, Yoel is as tough as they come. I mean, no one beats Yoel unless you’re a champion, and that’s what I am, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Nothing official has been said by Whittaker what exactly happened to him. However, Robert released a statement admitting he was deemed medically unfit to compete.
However, Rockhold says it was really the only viable alternative says despite the late switch in the opponent and he like this matchup compared to Whittaker.
“I’ve heard multiple things,” Rockhold said of Whittaker. “I’ve heard Whittaker is out with something serious. I’ve heard he could be potentially hospitalized. So I don’t know, I’ve heard he’s been dealing with something for weeks now, so I’m trying to wrap my brain around what it could possibly be. So we’ll see, man. I wish him the best and I’m just moving forward, I’m focused on what I have now. And Yoel would’ve happened now or later, one or the other, so it doesn’t matter to me. I’m sure I would’ve fought him after Whittaker, so either order, it doesn’t matter the order. Yoel first, it’s a very similar fight. Very explosive, athletic guys, so just contain them.
“I think Yoel has more holes to expose in his game,” Rockhold added. “I think Whittaker’s tighter. I think he’s harder to get to, whereas Yoel will kinda leave himself open. So, very similar fights, but I like this matchup.”
Luke Rockhold says Yoel Romero simply isn’t as tight in his MMA game as Whittaker, which will leave many chances for him to take advantage of the game.
Romero is a totally different contender than Whittaker so it will be interesting to see how Rockhold plays against another elite grappler in the 185-pound division.
Do you think Luke Rockhold will manage to come out victorious at UFC 221?