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UFC 225 recap: Robert Whittaker edges out Yoel Romero in five-round war

In the UFC 225 main event, UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker defeated Yoel Romero by split decision in a five-round, non-title bout.

Robert Whittaker before his fight against Yoel Romero at UFC 225 Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Take a bow, Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero.

Initially, UFC 225 was expected to feature a UFC middleweight title fight between the two elite fighters. Instead, champ Whittaker did not put his belt on the line Saturday at United Center in Chicago, as the challenger, Romero, missed weight Friday.

Still, Whittaker and Romero put on a rematch to remember for the ages.

They first met at UFC 213 last July, and it was Whittaker who walked away with the win, becoming the interim middleweight champ. Romero started strong in that fight, winning the first two rounds, but he slowed down — and Whittaker turned it up a notch — as time went on. Whittaker won the rematch in the UFC 225 main event, but it didn’t play out quite at all the same.

Early on, it seemed as if the second fight would be easier for Whittaker. Things were going his way right from the opening bell; he landed kick after kick to Romero’s leg and several other strikes. He was piecing up Romero, who wasn’t very active in the opening two rounds.

Viewers of the main event would later on learn that Romero was perhaps just waiting.

For something big.

In the third round, Romero landed a devastating right hook that stunned the champion. He rocked Whittaker at least once more in the round, which was one of the best frames of 2018 thus far.

From there until the final horn, Whittaker and Romero swung for the fences and gave it all they had. The fourth round was a bit slower; Whittaker had more volume, but Romero hurt him late. The fifth round was dominant for Romero and the main reason why it’s difficult to give Whittaker the decision in this bout. Many argued Romero won two rounds and that at least one was a 10-8 round, which would lead to a draw at worst. Nonetheless, Whittaker was favored on the scorecards and walked away with a split decision win.

What was the highlight of the fight?

Whittaker vs. Romero 2 was an unforgettable, back-and-forth instant classic. The heart of both men was the highlight of the fight. The fact that Whittaker managed to recover countless times from powerful Romero shots was pretty remarkable and says a lot about who “The Reaper” is as a fighter. And on the flip side, Romero took his fair share of damage and at times seemed exhausted. Whittaker also likely broke his right hand midway through the fight, and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear if Romero suffered a little more than bumps and bruises, too.

Neither man quit — far from it — in such a war. And even though they’ve spent 50 minutes of cage time together, Whittaker and Romero didn’t answer nearly all the questions we had going into the rematch. They left the Octagon on Saturday with the majority of fans wanting to eventually see a trilogy.

Where do these two go from here?

It’s not clear who Whittaker’s first title defense (officially) will come against, but it appears that the front runners to face the Australian next are Kelvin Gastelum and Chris Weidman. The former champ beat Gastelum last July, but he’s been dealing with a thumb injury since that fight, and Gastelum has been on a roll since dropping that fight. Either option is fine, but I’d like to see Whittaker vs. Gastelum the most.

Romero’s next step will be an interesting one to watch, as he missed weight prior to the Whittaker rematch. The UFC rewarded him a title shot after missing weight before stopping Luke Rockhold earlier this year, but will the promotion be so kind to him after a second consecutive miss?

If not, we could see “The Soldier of God” up at 205 pounds. And hey, I’d be down for that. If he remains at middleweight, there’s a number of options for him, including rematches with Weidman or Ronaldo Souza, or maybe even a once-scheduled fight against rising contender David Branch.

Watch now, later, or never?

I’m not sure if Whittaker vs. Romero 2 was more entertaining than Dustin Poirier vs. Justin Gaethje, but it’s damn close at the very least. We’ll certainly be talking about it in December when deciding which fight should win 2018’s Fight of the Year.

If you didn’t get the hint, check out the middleweight rematch no one knew they wanted to see as soon as you can.