Not long after the UFC middleweight division finally saw some clarity in the title picture, it was disrupted once again. But this time the trouble didn’t come from an interim title holder or another questionable super fight. Instead, it was due to a serious illness.
Whittaker was scheduled to defend his title against former champion Luke Rockhold in the main event of UFC 222. The Australian native, Whittaker, was all set to perform in front of the Perth crowd, before a nasty illness derailed his big moment.
It was reported that Whittaker had a staph infection. UFC president Dana White noted that Whittaker was in serious condition, as the infection had begun eating away at his organs. Initial reports suggest the severity of his condition was directly related to it being misdiagnosed initially.
Yoel Romero will now step in for Whittaker against Rockhold, in a bout that will see the interim titleholder be determined. Whittaker had won the interim strap last year and was recently upgraded to undisputed champ after the titleholder vacated.
Robert Whittaker emerged as one of the biggest surprises of 2017. Already a tough fighter with a decent record at welterweight, Whittaker moved up a division to 185 pounds. Most fighters who find success after switching a weight class drop down. But Whittaker moved up and found great success despite being one of the smaller competitors in the division.
He scored a first-round TKO over Derek Brunson and a second-round TKO over highly ranked Ronaldo Souza. This put him in the title picture – a picture that was in disarray due to a number of reasons. Michael Bisping originally won the title from Luke Rockhold, though he didn’t face any of the division’s top contenders afterwards.
Bisping fought Dan Henderson in a rematch of their previous fight – while Henderson was not even ranked in the top ten. Bisping won a controversial decision, and the division continued to be held up. This was largely due to the prospect of a super fight with Georges St.-Pierre.
The thought of a legend returning was something that got many fans excited, but GSP came into the fight after four years of inactivity. In addition, it was his first bout ever at middleweight. In response to the pool of impressive contenders at 185-pounds, the UFC created an interim belt as well.
Whittaker defeated Yoel Romero via decision to capture the gold, cementing his place as the top middleweight in the world. GSP would defeat Bisping in the third round of their fight but would have to vacate his title soon after due to colitis. Whittaker was upgraded to undisputed champion soon after this news broke.
Now it isn’t clear how long Whittaker will be out of action. He will likely face the winner of Rockhold/Romero when he’s back, though there is no official timeline for his return. Whittaker is currently on an eight-fight win streak and hasn’t tasted defeat since coming to middleweight. He has an overall record of 19-4.