Reigning Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight ace Robert Whittaker appeared on the “The MMA Hour” and detailed his decision to pull out of UFC 221, which will be held this weekend in Perth, Australia. “The Reaper” was scheduled to defend his middleweight belt for the first time against Luke Rockhold, who will now face the man Whittaker last defeated in Yoel Romero.
“I think a lot of my fans and a lot of the general populace know that I have no qualms with going into a fight injured,” Whittaker told The MMA Hour host Ariel Helwani. “I’ve gone into many fights injured. I went into the Yoel Romero fight with a torn MCL, I went into multiple fights with broken hands, and that’s never deterred me. And during my prep and my camp, I did my hamstring -- I did blow my hamstring out -- but I was willing to work around it. So we just worked around it, threw it on the wall, no explosive sort of stuff, and then I got an abscess infection.
“That absolutely knocked me out of the park. I was on antibiotics for that for weeks and it was just really getting out of hand, and we were still -- we were still very much, ‘Oh, we can make this work. If we cut out the three weeks we’ve lost now, we can turn it around so that we can just focus on fitness and skill sets and just get it done.’ And at the end of that, when I was thinking maybe we’re not able to fight, I got chickenpox as well. It was the sickest I’ve been in my entire life.
“My coaching staff came to me, my family came to me,” Whittaker continued. “They all went to me and sat me down, almost like an intervention, and said, ‘Rob, there is zero chance you’re going to be able to fight. Even if you did get in there, it is so unsafe for you to go out there with no prep and your body as weak as it is.’ And I have to listen to them. I have to listen to my coaching staff, that is what they do, and that was the call. I was talking to the UFC and they completely understood. They were actually very courteous towards my illnesses, and yeah, it was absolutely gut-wrenching. This is the Perth headline, this is a pay-per-view event, this is the country that I’m representing. And for me not to defend my title here, it’s just gutting.”
The news of Whittaker’s decision to pull out of UFC 221 is a double blow for not just himself, but his loyal fans down under. Whittaker is the first Australian fighter to hold a belt in the UFC and is a poster boy for aspiring young Aussie fighters who were eager to see the crafty slugger defend the middleweight belt in person on home soil.
The decision wasn’t all bad news, particularly on the home front, as Whittaker and his wife recently welcomed the birth of their daughter.
“This is funny, because you have to take the good with the bad, all things happen for a reason and all of that -- my wife is actually getting induced (into labor) today,” Whittaker said, “Because we found out on the weekend that the baby is not growing at the right rate and all of that, so they wanted to speed it up a week. So if I was fighting in Perth, I would’ve missed the birth of my daughter.”