Post-Fight Thoughts: Robert Whittaker -vs- Yoel Romero 2
Despite the weigh-in issues the day prior, the main event of UFC 225 managed to deliver an incredibly exciting, tense fight. The first bout between these two, last year, was an incredible back-and-forth battle and this was no different. It's rare to see lightning strike twice, but that is in fact what happened as Robert Whittaker defeated Yoel Romero for a second time, again by decision although this time the judges were split. It's unfortunate that, due to Romero missing weight by a cup of coffee, that Whittaker technically has yet to defend his title. He'll just have to live with winning what I would estimate to be the best fight in UFC middleweight history, and keeping his belt regardless.
For the first two rounds, it really didn't look like this fight was going to be anything close to the mayhem their first bout was. Whittaker took a page out of Romero's book, and attacked his foe's lead leg with oblique kicks and various other leg strikes. Romero seemed to be conserving himself even more than usual, mostly defending and analysing Whittaker's movement, looking for an opportunity to counter or flurry. Round 3 Romero has become something of a legend in the MMA world, and he once again graced us with his presence, as Yoel caught Whittaker with a massive punch that sent him reeling. Somehow, defying all odds, Whittaker retained enough of his witts to not only defend himself from Yoel's follow-up but even land a head-kick — albeit one the Cuban simply ignored as if it didn't even happen.
The momentum of the fighting had shifted significantly in the third frame, but at a cost: Yoel was utterly exhausted as the fourth began. There was a moment where Whittaker's open hand grazed the eye of Romero, which allowed a much needed break. Romero benefitted from the additional recovery time, but Whittaker managed to control most of the round. Then, near the end of the round, Romero landed another huge shot that dropped Whittaker. The champ was able to recover and defend himself, but lost the round in my eyes. Whittaker's durability has been amazing in both Romero bouts, taking shots that can — and have, if you look at his highlight reel — destroy almost anyone.
Round five was a commanding performance from Romero, who again blasted Whittaker with a huge right-hand that dropped him. Whittaker was able to recover, but Yoel kept pouring it on but wasn't able to seal the deal. Romero was even able to take Whittaker down in this round and do some damage there, but the New Zealander was able to get back to his feet and keep Romero at bay to close out the round. Most considered the final frame to be a 10-8 round for Romero, although none of the judges saw it that way. I scored the fight for Romero, without awarding a 10-8, but I thought he won the last 3 rounds. Honestly, though, it was a very close fight and there are strong arguments made for either being the winner.
What makes everything even more impressive is that Whittaker broke his right hand in the first round, and Yoel Romero's right-eye was swollen for almost the entirety of the fight. Regardless, both fighters went on to wage an amazing war, delivering what I truly to believe is the best fight in UFC middleweight history. One could argue that Anderson Silva's last-minute Hail Mary win over Chael Sonnen in their first encounter was a bigger moment, but the fight was one-way traffic — which made its conclusion so much more shocking. Conversely, this was a back-and-forth battle that saw both fighters taking turns in the driver's seat, and the final score was very debatable. I don't want to say Yoel was robbed, but it was a difficult fight to score because of how much happened in it.
The downside to Whittaker winning the rematch is that there is no reason for a rubber match, at least on paper. Also, the possibility of Romero missing weight again is a very real one. At 41 years of age, cutting down to 185 pounds is not going to get any easier, and he has already expressed a willingness to move up to light heavyweight. Now, that potential move up a division was also mentioned in a conversation about what Romero would do should he win the fight, as he was ineligible to win the title due to the weight miss. Still, I would like to see this materialise; Yoel is a physical specimen who would be able to match strength with 205'ers and the the light heavyweight ranks are quite thin as well. If ever there was a time to move up, now seems as good as any.
As for Whittaker, his next fight is actually somewhat difficult to figure out at the moment. Chris Weidman is still sidelined with injuries, Luke Rockhold is injured and was moving to light heavyweight (allegedly), which leaves Kelvin Gastelum as the only option at the moment... If weight weren't an issue, I'd almost expect the rubbermatch despite no on-paper justification for it. It doesn't seem like anyone will be taking the belt from Robert Whittaker any time soon, although it would be nice to see it actually on the line for once.
Published: June 10th, 2018.