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Robert Whittaker out of UFC 221 title defense due to injury

UFC 221 was set up perfectly for newly-crowned middleweight champion Robert Whittaker to make the first defense of his belt in his home country.

So much for that plan.

Whittaker has been forced to pull out of his scheduled title defense against former champ Luke Rockhold due to an undisclosed injury.

A UFC official confirmed an ESPN report late Friday night.

Rockhold will instead face Yoel Romero for an interim belt in the main event of the card on Feb. 11 in Perth, Australia.

Whittaker had held an interim title until Georges St. Pierre vacated the middleweight belt in December and Whittaker, a Sydney resident, was promoted to outright champion.

The development cleared the way for Whittaker, the first Australian champion in UFC history, to make his first title defense in the headliner of the organization’s first event in Perth.

“I’m beyond disappointed that I’m unable to defend the title in my home country of Australia,” Whittaker told ESPN.com. “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.”

Romero, who won an Olympic silver medal in wrestling for Cuba at the 2000 Sydney Games, now gets a chance to claim UFC gold on the other side of the country.

The 40-year-old had his eight-fight winning streak snapped by Whittaker in an interim title bout at T-Mobile Arena in July.

Romero had been scheduled to face David Branch on the UFC on Fox 28 card in Orlando on Feb. 24.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-277-8028. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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