Third Round Romero happened, and Robert Whittaker survived it. Then late Fourth Round Romero happened, and Robert Whittaker survived it. Fifth Round Romero happened, and Robert Whittaker survived that too.
The rematch between the reigning middleweight champion and Yoel Romero was sadly a non-title bout due to Romero’s weight miss, but it was enthralling nevertheless. Whittaker bossed Romero for the first two rounds, badly swelled up Yoel’s right eye, then round three was one of the best I’ve ever seen. Romero knocked Whittaker down with a thunderous right hand, went for the finish, but Whittaker weathered the storm and came back to stun Romero with a head kick that would’ve knocked out most normal human beings. Round four was Whittaker’s, then he did the stanky leg and was in serious trouble in the final minute. The fifth was all Romero’s, as he knocked him down and nearly knocked him out, ragdolled him and got takedowns, but he still couldn’t finish him.
In the end, Yoel Romero was never going to win the belt, but if he had made weight, he still wouldn’t have gotten the belt, as the judges awarded Whittaker the split decision, with NO 10-8s scored. I scored it 48-46 Romero, with Romero stealing the 4th, and then easily getting a 10-8 5th. Feel free to disagree with my 4th round scoring, as I’m not even comfortable with it, but I fail to see how the last round wasn’t a textbook 10-8, and for that reason alone, I’m surprised Whittaker had his hand raised.
Make no mistake about it, these are the two best middleweights in the world, bar none. It was an awesome, extremely competitive fight the first time, and the rematch was even better. This was a great ending to a rather uneven card that lacked a lot of entertaining, back-and-forth scraps, as well as the entire PPV requiring the scorecards.
More thoughts on Saturday’s card:
- If Romero is more or less forced up to light heavyweight, then Kelvin Gastelum has to be next for Whittaker. There are no other good options at 185. I’d favor Whittaker because Gastelum’s defense is just not tight enough for me, but it’d still be a barnburner.
- Whittaker had an injured knee last year, and he broke his hand during tonight’s contest. Between his toughness and Romero’s almost cartoonish damage absorption that makes him BARELY BUDGE on a flush head kick, you can’t help but stand and applaud the efforts of these phenomenal mixed martial artists. That’s why we love this sport so much.
- Colby Covington won an absolutely grueling fight vs. Rafael dos Anjos, as his volume striking, constant pressure, and takedowns (albeit with not much in the way of prolonged control) led him to a unanimous decision. I had it for Covington just barely, but think 48-47 RDA is totally fine. Covington’s relentlessness is his best asset, and forcing RDA into clinches and denying him space to work was great strategy. Hate him all you want — and I went as far as to mute the interview — the man is talented and deserves his shot against Tyron Woodley. He’s also a better striker than given credit for.
- What the HELL was that commentary all about? You’d have thought dos Anjos was getting crushed to dust in there. Dos Anjos landed multiple hard body shots that went ignored, and Joe Rogan seemed utterly surprised that Covington faded a bit in the fourth round.
- Megan Anderson isn’t ready for Cris Cyborg. Not even close. Why? Because Holly Holm used her takedowns and grappling to absolutely dominate the Australian in her UFC debut. It was the most complete performance we’ve ever seen from Holm inside the Octagon, and she picked up a dominant decision in the process. The only bothersome moment she had was a big knee in the opening minute, but that was it. Holm taught Anderson a harsh lesson, and now who knows what’s next for the former champion. They could have her rematch Cris Cyborg, or she could go down to 135 to fight Amanda Nunes, seeing as she’s the #1 ranked contender. She did say she wants both belts. Either way, full marks to Holm tonight.
- In a good scrap, Tai Tuivasa went past round one for the first time in his career, and was able to win a close unanimous decision over Andrei Arlovski. He also drank beer out of a shoe (not Joe Rogan’s, who shut that down) in the post-fight, or a “shooey” as it’s known. At 25, Tuivasa still has plenty to learn, but his cardio looked fine and he has a good chin plus deceptive athleticism.
- Well? Was it worth it? CM Punk lost a really one-sided decision to Mike Jackson, who actively clowned him in the final two rounds. The positives for Punk include getting a takedown, landing the occasional punch, throwing up a couple of (not even close) triangle chokes, and I suppose having the heart to go the distance, although you could argue this was more embarrassing than quickly losing again. Regardless, that’s exactly the fight you should’ve expected. He showed some competent moves, gassed out within a few minutes, and looked like an unathletic, injury-riddled 39-year-old who’s only been training MMA for a couple of years. Maybe he can play an MMA fighter in a movie or something, but I better not see him in the UFC ever again.
- A great move by the UFC to start the pay-per-view broadcast with a tribute to author, chef, and universally respected travel television host Anthony Bourdain, who died of a suspected suicide on Friday at just 61 years old. Bourdain was a fight fan, BJJ practitioner, and he even featured the Diaz Brothers and Gilbert Melendez on one of his episodes of Parts Unknown. It is absolutely gut-wrenching and bordering on incomprehensible to know that he’s no longer with us. May herest in peace.
- Well on his way to victory, Curtis Blaydes went for style points and elbowed the bejesus out of Alistair Overeem on the ground until his face exploded. A few hours later, Dan Miragliotta stopped the fight due to the excessive punishment. That’s another KO loss for Overeem to put him firmly out of title contention, whereas Blaydes enters free agency as clear top contender in the division. The best part? He’s only 27! That feels so refreshing. His wrestling is great, his chin held up to Overeem’s big knee in round two, and he felt comfortable throwing in combination in the final round right before the takedown and ultimately the finish.
- Claudia Gadelha survived an impressive performance from Carla Esparza, which included rocking her with a short right hand in the opening round, to win a split decision (much to the crowd’s displeasure). I felt Gadelha won the first two rounds, noting she had much more overall offensive success in round one despite getting hurt, but she faded hard and Esparza clearly took the final frame. A quality fight and even in defeat, I come away impressed by Carla’s technical improvements.
- It wasn’t overly exciting, but Mirsad Bektic notched an important win over longtime featherweight contender Ricardo Lamas, who tried hard to get a guillotine finish in the final round. Sal D’Amato scoring the fight for Lamas is certifiably insane. I don’t see how he won more than one round.
- Rashad Coulter tried knocking out Chris de la Rocha in a sloppy yet oh-so-exciting first round between these unranked heavyweights. Round two happened and it was awful. De la Rocha had Coulter in mount for at least two minutes and couldn’t get the choke, but mustered up enough energy to punch an inert Coulter out. He was merely slightly less exhausted than Coulter, whose corner told him he couldn’t KO Chris because “He’s a big ol’ Mexican with a big ol’ head.”
- Anthony Smith blasted Rashad Evans with a knee, ending his night in 53 seconds. That was uncomfortable and terrible to watch. There was an insanely high chance he was going to get melted, and he got melted. I hope Rashad retires. He’s regarded by most as a nice guy, and watching him take this much punishment is not good.
- In a close fight, Sergio Pettis scored an early knockdown of Joseph Benavidez and hung on for a split decision win, making him only the second man to defeat Benavidez at flyweight. The other man? Demetrious Johnson. Even with the long layoff for Benavidez, that’s still a huge win for Sergio. I scored it 29-28 Pettis, but I don’t think 29-28 Benavidez is an off-base score. Pettis is really close to a title shot at this point, and I imagine that he’ll be facing Jussier Formiga next since Henry Cejudo is set to rematch Demetrious Johnson.
- Somehow, the judge who scored the fight for Benavidez gave him round 1, in which he nearly got KO’d. That’s indefensible.
- As I imagine many figured would happen, Charles Oliveira outstruck Clay Guida and then snatched up the first submission he could find, and once he got that guillotine off of Guida’s takedown, Clay was destined to tap. Oliveira has tied Royce Gracie with ten submissions, the most in UFC history. A great short notice performance by the Brazilian.
- Dan Ige began the night by thrashing Mike Santiago in 50 seconds, earning himself his first UFC win, while almost certainly sending Santiago to the regional scene again. That was ridiculously one-sided.