After a fast start to the evening – four of the first five contests were finished early – UFC 225 hit a bit of a lull with some less inspiring contests. The low point was easily the CM Punk fight. The UFC would be wise to purge it from their archives, as it came in the middle of a stretch of six decisions in seven fights. Then came the main event between Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero. It may have gone to decision too, but it sure as hell wasn’t from a lack of effort from the two combatants. They put on what may have been a potential Fight of the Year candidate, coming close to putting each other away on several occasions. Whittaker’s victory proved to be controversial as there was a lot of debate about how the judges scored the final two rounds, but it doesn’t take away from the quality of the contest.
Colby Covington won what he called a real belt despite the word interim being attached to it by displaying a deeper gas tank than Rafael dos Anjos. Nonetheless, he’s in line to unify his belt with former teammate Tyron Woodley it what appears to be one of the few contests that could make Woodley a fan favorite. Plus, Holly Holm got back on track with a well-rounded performance. It may not have been a PPV of epic proportions, but UFC 225 did prove to be a nice rebound from a run of events that have proven underwhelming.
Robert Whittaker: Can someone please tell me how Whittaker survived those flurries of offense Romero applied to him? I considered moving Whittaker out of the winner’s column based solely on the amount of damage Whittaker endured. In the end though, Whittaker won one of the best fights in recent memory despite suffering what appears to be a broken hand early in the contest. He may have had some luck on his side when the judges sided with him in the split decision, but he now owns two victories over Romero at middleweight… two more than anyone else. Some of the names that have tried and failed to put just one loss on Romero: Tim Kennedy, Lyoto Machida, Jacare Souza, Chris Weidman, and Luke Rockhold. Whittaker is legit.
Yoel Romero: More members of the media believed the Cuban silver medalist won the contest than Whittaker — not that it would have provided Romero with the title. However, it does prove that Romero put on an impressive showing as Whittaker looked great. Regardless, Romero has yet to turn in a performance that fans can’t appreciate in some sort of way. In fact, this may very well have proved to be his best one. His energy level was affected by his difficult weight cut and he still came dangerously close to putting away the reigning middleweight champion. Even if Romero never secures middleweight gold – and it appears unlikely he will at this moment – no one can deny that he’s one of the best 185ers in the short history of MMA.
Colby Covington: While even Covington’s own mother finds him to be obnoxious, no one can deny that he executed an effective strategy that resulted in him wearing down the energetically durable Rafael dos Anjos. Sure, the UFC’s commentary team was a little too favorable towards the unlikeable American. That doesn’t mean Covington didn’t win the fight. What may be more frustrating for fans is Covington continues to improve his striking. The interim champion continues to improve….
Holly Holm: While Holm is best known for dethroning Ronda Rousey, the narrative was that she was a former boxing champion. We can officially call her a complete MMA fighter at this point. Outside of a brief moment when Megan Anderson rocked her in the opening moments, Holm was in control the entire time, utilizing takedowns, clinch work, distance striking… everything. I’m not on board with her fighting for another title off this win as her only other win since blasting Rousey was over Bethe Correia. However, it appears this win over Anderson might just do that.
Tai Tuivasa: This has far less to do with his performance in the cage, though he should be commended for pulling out a hard-fought decision over Andrei Arlovski. No, this has everything to do with Tuivasa’s antics outside the cage. First, he comes out to My Heart Will Go On, getting the crowd involved in singing along. Then when Joe Rogan is interviewing him, he asked for Rogan’s shoe so he can drink beer from it. When Rogan declined to offer his shoe, Tuivasa went and got a few shoes from fans in the crowd for a couple of beers. His fun-loving personality makes it hard not to like him. Even if some may find it obnoxious, Tuivasa is doing a great job of marketing himself.
Curtis Blaydes: Blaydes taking Overeem down multiple times wasn’t a surprise. Blaydes winning the standup was. Granted, that was because Overeem was giving respect to the takedowns, but that’s part of MMA. And that GnP… DAMN! I don’t know who taught him those elbows, but they were as brutal as any that I’ve ever seen. Blaydes is for real. His callout for a title shot… I have no problem with that.
Mirsad Bektic: I admit Bektic’s win over Ricardo Lamas wasn’t the most entertaining and I often put a lot of stock in that. But the dude deserves a lot of credit for fighting off Lamas’ many submission attempts and takedown attempts. Lamas didn’t leave him much opportunity to do much more than that. Not to say there aren’t holes Bektic shouldn’t look to fill in, but this was a big win for up-and-comer.
Anthony Smith: A few years ago, Smith was a veteran of the regional scene who had a cup of coffee in the UFC. Now that he’s earned his way back to the big dance, Smith has picked up wins over former champions Hector Lombard and Rashad Evans. The win over Evans was particularly impressive as he finished off the legend with a brutal knee less than a minute in. Not a bad advancement on his career. Props on his callout of Sam Alvey too.
Sergio Pettis: The knock on Pettis has been his inability to beat an elite opponent. Whether you believe Joseph Benavidez is no longer elite, this was the best win of Pettis’ career. He may not have landed as many punches as Benavidez, but he did land more clean shots than the former title challenger, proving to be the difference in the eyes of the judges. There doesn’t appear to be a debate which Pettis brother is superior at this point. In fact, Pettis could be looking at a title opportunity in the near future.
Charles Oliveira: It really shouldn’t be a surprise when one of the best submission artists in the sport submits one of the most submittable – don’t care if that isn’t a word – fighters the UFC has ever seen. But Oliveira badly needed this win after being wrecked badly by Paul Felder. He’s still pushing for an ill-advised return to featherweight, but I see no reason for him to do so when he can put on showings like this. Someone needs to convince Chucky Olives 155 is his home. Worth noting: Oliveira ties Royce Gracie for the most submission victories in the UFC.
Dan Ige: Ige wasted no time taking the fight to Mike Santiago, knocking the veteran to the ground and quickly locking in a body triangle. Santiago had nowhere to go and Ige continued to rain down the punishment to pick up his first UFC win… all in less than a minute. Impressive.
Tyron Woodley: I already mentioned why Woodley is a winner; fans hate Covington so much that they’re bound to side with Woodley. Given the boring nature of some of Woodley’s recent contests, there weren’t a lot of scenarios that could play out that would prove to be favorable for the champ. This was one of them. Here’s hoping he can take advantage of the situation.
Rafael dos Anjos: Everybody had their hopes pinned on the former lightweight champion to silence the loudmouthed Covington and dos Anjos came up short. Some were questioning his wrestling based approach, but it wasn’t like he was able to match the volume presented by the insane pace of Covington on the feet. Regardless, something seemed to be off with the Brazilian and he let down the fans.
Megan Anderson: Holly Holm is a far cry from Charmain Tweet, Anderson’s most notable win in her career. Whether Holm’s wrestling improvement is for real, it isn’t a good look when Anderson is taken down time and again by the former boxing champion. Anderson has plenty of potential, but it’s clear she needs some experience against top flight competition before she can be labeled a genuine contender. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad experience for the Aussie after all….
Mike Jackson: Jackson dominated his fight with CM Punk. He was expected to. However, he did so while looking like a douche. There were many times over the course of the contest where Jackson could have ended the contest. Instead, he chose to showboat in the guard of one Phil Brooks or just hold him up against the cage. I don’t know if he thought he was being funny or what, it came across poorly. I doubt anyone cares to see Jackson return to the UFC. If no one wants to see it, there’s no reason for the UFC to bring him back.
Alistair Overeem: Sure, Overeem didn’t get his head knocked into orbit like he did in his last contest against Francis Ngannou. But is getting your head pounded into the earth any better? Is there another fighter in this sport who has been on the receiving end of so many brutal finishes? I know there are still fights Overeem can win, but another finish like that and I don’t think I want to see Overeem in a cage anymore.
Rashad Evans: There may not be a better indication that a fighter should call it quits after being called a legend by the guy who just knocked the crap out of them. Evans has now lost five in a row since returning from ACL surgery, looking like a shell of his old self in every contest. While I’d say Smith is similar in quality to Dan Kelly and Sam Alvey, this loss is worse than those two as Smith finished him off with minimal effort. I know I’m not the only one with the hopes that he retires, but only Evans can make that decision.
Joseph Benavidez: Whether it was Benavidez being rusty after the major knee surgery he was returning from or Father Time catching up with him, Benavidez didn’t look like the guy whose only loss at flyweight came against Demetrious Johnson. Don’t get me wrong, Benavidez still looked capable of beating about 90% of the division and had a strong argument for the victory after being the busier fighter over the last two rounds. But he’s no longer the undisputed #2 flyweight in the world. Sad day the UFC never saw fit to give him a third opportunity at the belt.
Mike Santiago: Not only did he lose his third UFC contest in three tries. Not only did he lose in less than a minute. He did so in his hometown. Hard to see how it could be much worse for the veteran of the regional scene. There’s a strong chance he goes right back down to the minor leagues.
Chicago: I’m not ripping on the city itself. Just on the hometown fighters as Blaydes was the only Chicago representative who walked out of the arena with his hand raised. Is it just me, or have American fighters been struggling to pick up the W in front of home crowds?
Judges: I don’t want to take anything away from what Romero and Whittaker did… but how in the hell was the final round not a 10-8 in favor of Romero? Whittaker was unable to put together any significant offense in that round while Romero came thisclose to putting away the champ. Do we need another review of how rounds should be scored?
CM Punk: Nobody will question Punk’s heart. He didn’t give up and won the respect of many people for his performance. I’ll even acknowledge his improvement. Seriously though, can we please end this PR stunt? It damages the credibility of the UFC… or what’s left of it. You don’t see the Toronto Raptors signing Drake just because he’s a super fan. I get that MMA is a different sport than basketball, but given how often Dana White likes to compare the UFC to other large sports, those comparisons are fair game in my book.
Claudia Gadelha: Gadelha got the win and I firmly believed she deserved it. Regardless, I understand where the crowd was coming from when they booed the decision. Gadelha looked far worse for wear at the end of the fight, both eyes swollen shut while accomplishing very little in the final round. She’s lucky it wasn’t ruled a 10-8 round. Bottom line: Gadelha won contest, but she lost the fight. Y’all get what I’m putting down?
Carla Esparza: Esparza walked away with the love from the fans. Who would have guessed that after her tepid performances after losing her title? Esparza maintained a high energy level and would have escaped with a win had this been a five-round fight as Gadelha had nothing left. Even if Esparza didn’t leave with her hand raised, she performed better than anyone expected and reestablished herself as a top flight strawweight.
Ricardo Lamas: While I said I wasn’t going to fault Bektic for their fight being less-than-entertaining, I can’t fault Lamas either. He tried to execute takedowns early before going for broke on submissions in the last round. Plus, I can’t call the guy a loser when he came back as aggressive as he did after his devastating KO loss to Josh Emmett last December. Lamas may no longer be a top featherweight contender, but he’s still a tough out.
Chris de la Rocha and Rashad Coulter: The opening round to their contest was one of the most entertaining rounds of MMA we’ve seen all year. Sloppy? Undoubtedly, but who said a fight needs to be technical to be fun? The second round took every bit of wind out of the sails as neither big man had anything left in the tank. In fact, it was up there for worst round of the year for a major MMA promotion. There may not be a more definitive fight of how good and bad heavyweight MMA can be. For those who care, de la Rocha walked away the winner.
Ronda Rousey: Make no mistake, Rousey absolutely deserves her place in the Hall of Fame. She revolutionized women’s MMA. That isn’t up for debate. However, once the impressive video package put together by the UFC was complete, the noise of the crowd could be heard on the broadcast loud and clear. It appears her less-than-gracious exit from the sport still has many fans sore. Here’s hoping her induction can be a healing of sorts for her relationship with MMA fans… for the sake of both sides.
Illinois State Athletic Commission: I don’t know if they should be commended for stopping Romero’s weight cut from going any further or if they should be condemned. What I do know is it can be debated all day and there won’t be a consensus on what they did. Had they allowed Romero to continue, it’s likely Whittaker’s title would have been on the line. Then again, would Romero have been able to do what he did if they allowed him to continue cutting? I don’t know and neither does anyone else.