UFC 213 is in the books, and while I’m sure many are still disappointed that we didn’t get to see Amanda Nunes fight Valentina Shevchenko tonight, we were still treated to an entertaining, compelling interim middleweight title bout between Yoel Romero and Robert Whittaker. Just as it seemed as if Romero was in the driver’s seat, up two rounds and with Whittaker’s left leg in bad shape, Whittaker soldiered through and took over the second-half of the contest on his way to a deserved unanimous decision. I was impressed with his takedown defense against by far the best wrestler he’s ever faced, and he had Romero hurt multiple times in the championship rounds. Romero was exhausted after all the energy spent going for takedowns and trying to land that knockout shot. He didn’t do much damage when he had Whittaker down, and Whittaker’s ability to escape, sprawl, use the whizzer, etc. was extraordinary. I consider him to be in the absolute elite ranks as far as takedown defense is concerned.
Up next for Whittaker is Michael Bisping, if we are to believe Dana White is certain we’re not going to have Bisping vs. Georges St-Pierre next. Bisping pissed fans off by ripping up a miniature flag of Cuba mid-fight, then got to promoting his matchup with Whittaker by throwing his actual UFC belt on the mat and saying, “See you soon, motherf—ker.” It probably would’ve been better if he’d just ripped the interim belt away and thrown it into the 5th row or something. Anyway, Whittaker is arguably a much worse stylistic matchup for Bisping than Romero, and I’d be stunned if Bisping was able to pull off the upset. Whittaker is the long-term future of 185, and he’s shown what a sensational fighter he’s become since making the move up from 170. And he’s just 26 years old, so by middleweight standards, he might as well be 16!
More thoughts on tonight’s show:
- If only Yoel Romero had gotten into MMA at a much younger age. Damn. There was always the concern he’d fade if he didn’t get his famous third-round finish, and it showed tonight. He still gave it a go but Whittaker had figured him out on the feet and it was downhill from there. Romero may not have won (interim) gold tonight but it’d take a lot for me to not be interested in seeing him fight someone in a UFC cage.
- Jon Anik/Brian Stann/Joe Rogan worked for me. I normally don’t care for three-man booths, but these guys struck a perfect balance to the point where Rogan and Stann played off each other well, and Anik chipped in with play-by-play when needed. It didn’t feel like they were climbing over each other for air time, is what I’m sayng.
- The UFC’s promo for Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones 2 is one of the best they’ve ever done, and I genuinely mean that. It was also refreshingly honest, because they outlined Jones’ self-destructive behavior in a tasteful manner that blended into the rivalry between him and Cormier. When the video is uploaded on Youtube, be sure to check it out, because it’s phenomenal work.
- Alistair Overeem took the rubber match over Fabricio Werdum by majority decision, even though he was dropped and badly hurt in round 3. It’s really Werdum’s own fault for not pursuing the KO after rocking him with the knee. He took Overeem down and did pretty much nothing after that. Werdum and his corner must have thought they had round 1 in the bag, and evidently that wasn’t the case. Oh well.
- Good on the UFC for showing highlights of Friday’s Justin Gaethje’s epic fight vs. Michael Johnson. That needed to be shown again on tonight’s broadcast and I’d really love to see them get behind Gaethje as a star in this sport.
- Curtis Blaydes is a young heavyweight with a lot to learn. He had far too many awful, telegraphed shots on Daniel Omielanczuk, which led to zero takedowns, but he landed the better strikes and won an ugly-as-hell decision. I’m still hopeful Blaydes will be a really good fighter, but this was rough to watch.
- Anthony Pettis returned to lightweight and picked up a fun unanimous decision win over the always-tough Jim Miller. It was a shutout win on the scorecards, but Miller had his moments, especially with the kicks to Pettis’ lead leg, but Anthony’s athleticism, speed, and strength overwhelmed the veteran. Good to see Pettis stay at 155, now we see if he can make his way back towards the top of the division he once ruled.
- Rob Font made the most of his unexpected main card time with a brilliant performance against Douglas Silva de Andrade. The Massachusetts native picked apart the Brazilian on the feet, then finished Andrade with a nasty guillotine choke. He’s one to keep an eye on in this increasingly stacked bantamweight division.
- Oleksiy Oliynyk and Travis Browne exchanged knockdowns in round 1, and then Oliynyk punished Browne’s absurdly stupid willingness to grapple and tapped out to a tight face crank/modified choke/whatever the hell that was. Oliynyk is really good at those. Browne has lost four in a row, and under normal circumstances I’d say he’s cut from the UFC, but we know that’s probably not happening.
- No, Browne didn’t have Tarverdyan in his corner.
- I love body shot finishes, and Chad Laprise delivered one. A lovely right to the liver hurt Brian Camozzi, and Laprise continued to attack the body from there and got himself the 3rd round TKO finish. I’m also a fan of Laprise calling out Mickey Gall for UFC 215, and it’s a fight I’m interested in.
- Thiago Santos beat the hell out of a very tough but extremely overmatched Gerald Meerschaert, whose want of a grappling matchup ended with him getting hit a lot in the face and body. Santos’ hammerfists sealed the deal in round 2, as the Brazilian becomes the first man to stop Meerschaert with strikes, and damn did he land a lot of strikes.
- Belal Muhammad just roughed up Jordan Mein in the final two rounds of their fight, and picked up a deserved decision win on the eve of his birthday. If there’s ever a guy who looks “fight old” at 27, it’s Mein. He was once an exciting action fighter, but he’s not even providing that anymore. It’s a bit sad to see.
- Trevin Giles impressed in his UFC debut by battering fellow light heavyweight newcomer James Bochnovic with brutal ground-and-pound until the KO blows came in round 2. For precautionary reasons, Bochnovic had to be taken out on a stretcher (after he got some oxygen and was put on a stool), so hopefully he’s okay. The other Fight Pass bout saw Cody Stamann defeat Terrion Ware in a fun scrap, with Stamann’s wrestling and athleticism proving to be too much for Ware to handle. This was a featherweight fight, but this was also booked on short notice, so expect to see them both at bantamweight the next time out.