Robert Whittaker's first fight as UFC middleweight champion was supposed to be on home soil.

Instead he watched from the sidelines as Yoel Romero, the man he beat to claim the title, took his place and stole the show at UFC221 in Perth with a knockout win over Luke Rockhold.

Whittaker wanted to fight, but a stomach infection and chickenpox meant he was not physically up to the task.

"It was hard," Whittaker told the Herald. "This is what I'm supposed to be doing. I want to fight and especially because it was supposed to be my event, my time to shine. It was my card, my time to defend the belt at home.


"I was a little upset – I'll put it like that."

UFC middleweight champion Rob Whittaker will return to the octagon in June. Photo / Getty Images.
UFC middleweight champion Rob Whittaker will return to the octagon in June. Photo / Getty Images.

With the Auckland-born 27 year old forced to withdraw, Romero stepped up, knocked Rockhold out and announced himself as the top contender for Whittaker's belt.

Outside of the disappointment in not competing, Whittaker said Romero's win over Rockhold exemplified exactly why he loves the sport.

"Things like this can happen – things like stepping in at the right time and taking a fight when nobody else want it can get you the next title shot. I just think that's amazing. You can't get that in any other sport."

Now, the two were set to meet inside the octagon at UFC 225 in Chicago on June 8 (NZT) – 11 months after Whittaker claimed the title with a unanimous decision win over his Cuban counterpart.

Romero comes into the bout having won nine of his past 10 fights – seven by knockout - while Whittaker is undefeated in seven fights (four KOs) since making the step up to middleweight (77.5-84kg) in 2014.

Whittaker entered the UFC in 2012 as a welterweight (71-77kg) and went 3-2 in the weight class before stepping up for health reasons.

"I'm just where I'm supposed to be now, it's a more natural weight for me."


It's been a wild 11 months for the champion since he last met Romero. From being unable to work due to illness, to the birth of his daughter Lilliana, Whittaker took a simple approach to looking back at the time between bouts.

"That's life," Whittaker said. "You have your ups and your downs. In that time it hasn't all been down. Obviously, with the birth of my daughter, getting better as a fighter, now's just the time I'm looking forward to getting back in there and doing what I'm supposed to be doing."

The down time might have worked in Whittaker's favour too. The man nicknamed 'the Reaper' has no issues going into a bout injured – actually working through a torn MCL when he last met Romero - but the time off has allowed him to feel a good as possible ahead of his return to the Octagon.

And while their bout went the distance last year, Whittaker was going into UFC225 with one thing in mind.

"I'm absolutely feeling perfect. This is the best I've felt for any fight to be honest.

"He's a tough dude and a high level fighter, but I'm definitely going in there this time around with bad intentions."