CHICAGO — February’s UFC 221 had been setup to be a lifelong dream for middleweight champion Robert Whittaker. He was set to make his first title defense against Luke Rockhold in his current residence of Australia. Then, the unthinkable happened.
After years of constantly battling injuries, Whittaker’s body finally shut down on him. He suffered a staph infection in his stomach that went mistreated. To make matters worse than they already were, Whittaker came down with the chickenpox and for the first time in his career, he had to pull out of a fight.
Whittaker (20-4), who will defend his belt on Saturday against Yoel Romero in the main event of UFC 225, was devastated at the time of the illnesses because he couldn’t perform in front of his countrymen and the significance of the event.
“I was gutted to be honest,” Whittaker told Sporting News. “Very distraught in all honesty. I’m no stranger to injury. I’ve gone into fight preps and fight camps injured. I’ve gone into three fights injured. I’ve never pulled out of a fight. And for me to reach a point to where there was nothing I could work around. There wasn’t even a chance (that) I could work this out or work around it. I can do X, Y and Z. My body said, ‘we are done.’ The doctors and my coaching staff were the ones who said I was done and there’s zero chance you could fight. The doctor said I cannot medically sign you off.
“There’s two emotions. One, it sucks and I’m absolutely devastated. The backlash is going to be huge with me, the headliner having to pull out of the card in Australia and supposed to defend the belt in Perth for the first time. You get worried about that sort of stuff. The second part though is relief because deep inside of me I knew there was no way I could fight this fight. I was absolutely bedridden. I couldn’t train. I couldn’t do anything. I was sick as a dog.”
UFC 225: Whittaker vs. Romero 2 date, fight card, start time, how to watch
After Whittaker pulled out of the fight, the UFC called Romero to battle Rockhold for the interim title. Romero ended up missing weight by 3.7 pounds and would not be eligible to become the interim champion if victorious. He did earn the win, stopping Rockhold in the third round.
If Romero misses weight again this weekend, Whittaker says he will not take the fight.
“There wouldn’t be a fight,” Whittaker explained. “Why would I? I might as well fight someone heavier than me. What does it matter if you are not going to make weight? If you don’t make weight, there’s no fight.”
Steven Muehlhausen is an MMA and boxing writer and contributor for Sporting News. Subscribe to his You Tube channel here . You can email him at email@example.com and can find him on Twitter @SMuehlhausenMMA .