Pre-Fight Thoughts: Israel Adesanya -vs- Yoel Romero
The booking of Yoel Romero, who had lost his last fight to Paulo Costa, in a title fight against middleweight champ Israel Adesanya prompted a lot of deserved skepticism. While the Cuban's past fights have all been very close, resulting in contentious decisions that didn't go his way, there is also the matter of repeated weight misses. The optics of the fight didn't make a lot of sense, even with Costa — the presumptive number one contender following his win over Romero — sidelined with an injury , it still looks bizarre to reward Romero. I'm not necessarily against the idea; I like the fight, I just couldn't give you a merit-based argument for it.
Luckily the UFC doesn't operate based on merit, though, and this is one of those instances were I don't hate the result. Even with the fact that he lost very close fights to Robert Whittaker, and the weight misses, Yoel Romero is still an elite athlete — arguably the best to never hold a UFC title — who has a credible chance to win this fight. I have to give Israel Adesanya a lot of credit for requesting a challenger of this calibre. One does not simply ask to fight Yoel Romero, I believe the saying goes.
As such, we have on our hands a really compelling match-up between a free-wheeling, world class kickboxer — who has taken to MMA like a fish to water — against a patient, calculating, brutal Cuban Hercules. This is a significant contrast of styles that makes for a fight that is difficult to predict, and could yield a very different type of fight, depending on who dictates the pace. I expect a tentative opening round, but where the fight goes from there is unclear.
Romero is a very low-volume fighter. He'll burn up large amounts of time before delivering a one-shot kill — seemingly out of nowhere. This can be a problem, obviously, because if he spends too much time being defensive, looking for his opening, then he'll lose rounds at the very least. Romero hasn't shown any signs that his durability is compromised, although one always has to wonder about the effects of continuing to cut to 185 pounds as a man in his 40s. If anyone is going to test his chin, it would be a sniper like Israel Adesanya.
The big unknown, at least for me, is whether or not Adesanya can finish Romero. He'll need to hit Romero precisely and regularly, which is certainly within his wheelhouse, but every engagement is a chance for Romero to land that life-changing single shot. Romero has far more than just a puncher's chance, though; his ability to read opponents, set traps and adapt on the fly is a big part of what makes him so dangerous. The mind-boggling athleticism is a complement to a very cerebral approach. Whether or not Romero can figure out Israel Adesanya is a huge question.
Romero's wrestling skills give him a good way to change the dimensions of the fight, should the stand-up be totally unviable. Adesnaya's takedown defence hasn't really been tested, with the Derek Brunson making the only attempts — which were frantic, unsuccessful and a prelude to his utter annihilation by TKO. Given his apparent comfort in the the cage, there is no guarantee that he'll be easy to take down or incapable of defending and getting back to his feet. Adesanya's transition to MMA has been nothing short of impressive, he is a young fighter and is getting better from fight-to-fight.
My suspicion is we're going to get a fight that will have many frustrating moments where both fighters are tentative and probing. We could very well see a contentious decision as a result of this, if neither fighter feels comfortable taking the lead. I feel like a finish, should one materialise, will be a quick, decisive outcome — a flash of violence bringing the fight to a sudden end. Winning this fight would be a huge feather in Adesanya's cap, beating one of the best middleweights of all time, and for Romero it would be an incredible capstone to decades-long career as a world class athlete in multiple disciplines.
I am inclined to lean towards Israel Adesnaya, given his career momentum, youth, and impressive adapation to MMA. The ruthless, surgical manner in which he destroyed Robert Whittaker was a masterful performance and nothing short of brilliant. I don't know if Adesanya will laser through Romero's so efficiently but it's not outside the realm of possibility. As much as I would love to see Yoel Romero win a title he is absolutely qualified to hold, I give the champ much higher odds of retaining here. Either way, I think this will be an interesting fight; the tension will be off the charts for however long it lasts.
Published: March 7th, 2020.