Robert Whittaker survived some frightening moments and a pair of knockdowns in the championship rounds against Yoel Romero to retain the UFC middleweight title by split decision in the main event of UFC 225 that took place at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.
It was a violent continuation of their 2017 clash that saw Whittaker come away as the UFC middleweight champion. Their rematch at UFC 225 was a more violent affair that was filled with drama and a round that will certainly go down as one of the best in 2018.
Unlike their UFC 213 fight that was more of a high-powered chess match, the rematch was packed with fireworks and saw both fighters have their moments. But Whittaker would manage to escape with his title despite a fifth round that could have been scored 10-8, but wasn’t by any of the three judges, and impacted the two scorecards that were 48-47 for Whittaker and the one that was 48-47 for Romero.
After a sluggish start from Romero that was likely compromised by his weight cut — he came in at 185.2 pounds and unable to win the middleweight title — the Cuban exploded in the fourth round with a pair of knockdowns that nearly put the champion away. But Whittaker managed to survive the storm both times and heard the scorecards being read in his favor.
In the opening frame, Whitaker deployed an effective oblique kick and proved to be more active in the striking department as Romero sought to find openings. What has become par for the course with Romero saw the Cuban fight in spurts in an effort to conserve energy. The brutal weight cut forced Romero into a position where he needed to keep a slow pace and pick his spots to explode. Meanwhile, Whittaker kept active and scored with punches and leg kicks while his opponent attempted to cover up.
In the second round, a Whittaker left hand caused some terrible swelling on Romero’s right eye. It didn’t take long for the eye to swell shut and caused Romero to fight with much more urgency. Fortunately for Romero, his corner was able to relieve some of the swelling between rounds. Between the swelling and his lack of conditioning, Romero fought with more urgency in the third round and cut loose a right hand that sent the champion careening to the canvas. Romero swarmed Whittaker in an effort polish his opponent off but Whittaker unleashed a short elbow that nearly cut the lights off on Romero. Romero continued to throw the kitchen sink at Whittaker but was smashed by a head kick from the champion that punctuated a wickedly violent round that will likely be recognized as one of the best of the year.
Whittaker opened the fourth round with a pair of head kicks in an attempt to take advantage of Romero’s impaired vision. The oblique kicks continued from Whittaker while Romero looked for opportunities to explode. Something that Romero may not have picked up was that Whittaker had injured his right hand and avoided using it in the championship rounds. The two plucked away at one another until a stiff counter from Romero stunned Whittaker again right before the bell sounded.
Perhaps knowing that it would be best not to leave the fight to the judges, Romero came out firing with everything he had left in the fifth round. A two punch combination sent Whittaker stumbling back and a hellacious left hook dropped Whittaker like a sack of bricks to the canvas. Romero swarmed the damaged Australian and pummeled him with strikes on the ground. But, somehow, Whittaker survived the assault and got back to his feet. With the gas tank on empty, Romero was unable to capitalize as Whittaker made it to the final bell.
It was a narrow escape from Whittaker but the champion demonstrated that he possessed the mettle to be world champion. As for Romero, if he can get his weight under control, it will be interesting to see where he goes from here.
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