UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker's homecoming fight in Australia is not going to happen.
According to UFC officials, per ESPN.com's Brett Okamoto, the local favorite has withdrawn from his scheduled UFC 221 bout with Luke Rockhold because of an undisclosed injury.
"I'm beyond disappointed that I'm unable to defend the title in my home country of Australia," Whittaker said, per Okamoto. "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."
Brett Okamoto @bokamotoESPN
Rough one. Whittaker was obviously THE guy to headline UFC 221 and sources say he tried to fight through several issues. Wasn’t possible. Rockhold/Romero is a long time in the making and a great fight, but feel for Rob.2018-1-13 07:52:55
The news is a devastating blow on multiple levels.
In the short term, despite being well-tailored to the local audience, UFC 221 was a one-fight card for the rest of the world. While Whittaker vs. Rockhold was a compelling fight, the event features no other international draws outside fan-favorite heavyweight Mark Hunt, who is set to face the unheralded Curtis Blaydes.
Already likely to struggle in terms of generating revenue, the promotion's foray to Perth is likely to be a sour end to its winter schedule.
In the long term, UFC 221 had the potential to be a promotional perfect storm similar to UFC Dublin, which cemented Conor McGregor as one of the UFC's top stars. By withdrawing from the event, Whittaker is likely to enter his next fight to little fanfare, which would stunt his potential rise to the mainstream.
Despite losing Whittaker, the show will go on, with Rockhold now set to face Yoel Romero for the interim middleweight title. While the introduction of yet another interim belt to the division will likely be met with derision from fans and pundits alike, Rockhold vs. Romero is an intriguing bout featuring the division's most dynamic finisher opposite its greatest pure athlete.
Rockhold vs. Romero will take place February 11. Hopefully the card can avoid any other shakeups.