They say you should take the wins you can get, but this has gotta be a weird-ass feeling. Australian fighter Robert Whittaker rolled out of bed this morning and by lunch-time had become our country’s first ever UFC world champion. All without throwing a punch.
The mixed-martial arts behemoth announced their main event plans for the upcoming UFC 221 event in Perth, with Whittaker and the middleweight division set to take centre stage.
Champion Georges St-Pierre, who claimed the middleweight championship at UFC 217 in early November, was tentatively pencilled in to defend the belt in Perth. However the 36-year-old veteran has decided to instead focus on his own health and recover, vacating the title earlier today.
That means that interim champion Whittaker has been elevated to the status of undisputed middleweight champion, making him the first Australian fighter to claim a weight-class title in the promotion.
In handing back the title, St-Pierre issued a statement via the UFC’s official website.
My fight at UFC 217 was one of the greatest nights of my life but I now need to take some time to focus on my health. Out of respect to the athletes and the sport, I don’t want to hold up the division. I will be giving up my belt and once I’m healthy I look forward to working with the UFC to determine what’s next in my career.
So the main event of 221 in Perth will no longer feature Whittaker aiming to claim the title. Instead, Whittaker – as champion – will be marching into the octagon to defend the undisputed middleweight championship against the third ranked American Luke Rochhold.
🇦🇺 Perth, we’ve got a main event!!
— UFC (@ufc) December 8, 2017
Rockhold is a stalwart of the middleweight division with a career record of 16-3. He’ll be looking to reclaim the middleweight title he lost to Michael Bisping in June of 2016. This is his first return shot at the title since losing it.
UFC 221 is scheduled to take place on February 11, 2018 at the Perth Arena.
Tickets for the event go on sale on December 15th.