MMA: Georges St-Pierre vacates middleweight belt, Robert Whittaker becomes first Australian UFC champion

UFC interim middleweight champion Robert Whittaker (above) has now been promoted to undisputed champion in light of Georges St-Pierre's decision to vacate the title due to health issues.
UFC interim middleweight champion Robert Whittaker (above) has now been promoted to undisputed champion in light of Georges St-Pierre's decision to vacate the title due to health issues.PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/UFC

SINGAPORE - Having made a triumphant comeback after a four-year hiatus from the Octagon to capture the middleweight belt from Michael Bisping at UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) 217 in Madison Square Garden, New York, Canadian mixed martial artist Georges St-Pierre opted to vacate the title on Thursday (Dec 7) due to health issues.

In a statement provided by the UFC, St-Pierre said: "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."

Last Saturday (Dec 2), St-Pierre revealed on Facebook that he had been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and in an interview with Canadian sports network TSN, the former two-time welterweight champion also cast doubt over his future at middleweight, alluding that the disease arose from the muscle mass he had to put on in order to make weight.

"We'll talk about it, but I'm not sure if I compete, I will go back at 185 pounds (83.9kg)," the 36-year-old said. "I don't think so. I don't think it's a good thing to do, (to) force myself to eat to gain muscle mass.

"I've always been against performance-enhancing drugs, and I did it the natural way. There is no easy way. I did it the hard way. It was to gain weight and to maintain my muscles mass, and it was very hard and it was not healthy.

The UFC interim middleweight champion Australia's Robert Whittaker (20-4-0) has now been promoted to undisputed champion in light of St-Pierre's decision. The 26-year-old will defend the belt on Feb 10 in the main event of UFC 221 in Perth against former title-holder and No. 1 contender American Luke Rockhold (16-3-0).

This will be the world's biggest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion's first event in Western Australia and it is befitting that Whittaker, as Australia's first UFC champion, will headline the card.

New Zealand-born Whittaker (19-4-0) has won his last eight fights and is undefeated at middleweight, after making the decision to move up a weight class from welterweight at UFC Fight Night 55 in November 2014.

In a boost for regional representation at UFC 221, popular Kiwi heavyweight slugger Mark Hunt (13-11-1-1) has also been medically given the go-ahead to fight in Perth. The Sydney resident had been suspended indefinitely by the UFC since October after an interview with Australian website Players Voice that month in which he revealed he had been "slurring his words, struggling to sleep and forgetting things he had done only 24 hours earlier".

The UFC made Hunt undergo a series of brain tests following the controversial publication and on Thursday, the promotion released a statement that read: "After a full medical analysis at the Lou Ruvo Centre for Brain Health in Las Vegas, UFC confirms that heavyweight athlete Mark Hunt has been cleared to compete."

St-Pierre is a part of an elite class comprising Randy Couture, B.J. Penn, and Conor McGregor as the UFC's only two-weight class champions, and is joint-equal with Bisping for most number of UFC victories (20).