After Yoel Romero missed weight on Friday for his second consecutive bout, UFC fans were undoubtedly anxious — as the fate of Romero’s Saturday night showdown against UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker was suddenly up in the air.
But the bout was allowed to proceed — and thank goodness it was, because it was sensational.
Robert Whittaker scored a second straight decision victory over Yoel Romero to retain his UFC middleweight championship, in an outstanding action fight to punctuate a stout UFC 225 card.
Early on, Whittaker appeared to be in control. His consistent striking and sustained leg kicks scored clear victories in the first two rounds. And with Romero’s right eye dramatically swollen, the Cuban challenger appeared to be in serious trouble.
But thanks to some terrific corner work and a few huge strikes, the tables promptly turned, and Romero got back in the contest. Whittaker showed an incredible chin and all kinds of heart to fend off Romero’s attacks. The champion regained momentum and dominated most of the fourth frame, until a late Romero rally.
And then the challenger launched a furious attack in the fifth and final round — which could have conceivably been scored 10-8 in his favor. But it was not, and Whittaker prevailed 48-47 on two of the three judges’ cards.
Overall, this main event served as an exclamation point on a strong evening of fights. The sport is undoubtedly building some momentum ahead of absolutely stacked UFC 226 in Las Vegas — headlined by the much-anticipated heavyweight title contest between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier.
Main Event: Robert Whittaker (19-4) vs. Yoel Romero (13-2)
Robert Whittaker (20-4) def. Yoel Romero (13-3) by split decision to retain his UFC welterweight championship. (48-47, 47-48, 48-47)
Round 1: A solid if not quite spectacular main card comes to a close with what should be a scintillating rematch of a terrific contest from last July. Referee Dan Miragliotta gives the instructions, and we are underway. Slow tempo to begin the bout, which is being fought at a pace very similar to the opening frame of their first fight. Romero promised more aggression in the bout, but he’s allowing Whittaker to dictate the tempo. The champion is showing no signs of rust despite his nearly year-long absence from the octagon. Several solid strikes upstairs help Whittaker carry a measured opening round. Whittaker 10-9.
Round 2: After the first round, Whittaker’s corner assured the champion that Romero is simply looking for one big shot. And the second round proceeds accordingly. Whittaker’s striking has been sensational, he’s significantly outlanded the challenger. Midway through the second round, Romero’s right eye has swollen dramatically — a left jab from Whittaker appeared to cause the damage. Romero may not be allowed to continue much longer, as the eye has nearly swollen shut. Romero went for his first takedown attempt late in the frame, but failed to execute. Dominant round for the champion. Whittaker 10-9, 20-18 overall.
Round 3: Romero’s corner did masterful work on their fighter’s damaged eye, and he appears ready to go. And after dominating the first 10 minutes of the contest, Robert Whittaker is suddenly in trouble! Romero turned the tables with a crushing right hook. Backing up his pre-fight talk, Romero is going for the kill. It’s all about survival for Whittaker, who is absorbing strike after strike and staying alive. Whittaker fends off the attack, and appears to have his bearings back midway through the round — with both fighters appearing gassed. Romero comes on again and is landing at will. But a terrific head kick from Whittaker helps slow the Romero rally. Still, it was nowhere near enough to keep Romero from dominating the frame. Romero 10-9, 29-28 Whittaker overall.
Round 4: Both men might’ve emptied the tank in Round 3, as the’ve been unable to duplicate the fireworks from the previous round. Whittaker is going back to the leg kicks with which he scored early on, while Romero has simply stopped throwing. He gets a break, however, as referee Dan Miragliotta calls time to allow Romero to recover from a very questionable low blow. The 41-year-old Cuban, however, takes full advantage of the break and catches his breath. The action resumes and Whittaker’s leg kicks and excellent striking are carrying the frame. Romero’s mouth is wide open. Whittaker has dominated the round. But Romero catches Whittaker with a huge left hook in the closing seconds. Whittaker appears to be in some trouble again. Romero follows-up, but not quite with the same verve as in round 3. The final seconds make things very interesting on the cards, but Whittaker seemed to do enough in the early part of the round to survive Romero’s late rally. Whittaker 10-9, 39-37 overall.
Round 5: This bout has absolutely lived up to its billing and delighted the United Center crowd. Whittaker appears to have the edge on the cards, but Romero — as he showed in the final seconds of the fourth round — is still in contention. Romero knocks down the champion! The fight is on the ground and Romero has Whittaker’s back. Now, the fighters are on their feet and in an extended clinch. But after a period of inactivity, referee Dan Miragliotta breaks up the fighters with 40 seconds remaining. The bout concludes to cheers. Did Whittaker do enough to hang on? Romero 10-9, Whittaker 48-47 overall.
— Colby Covington (14-1) def. Rafael Dos Anjos (28-10) by unanimous decision. (49-46, 48-47, 48-47)
Covington’s constant pressure carried the day and earned him a clear decision and the interim UFC welterweight championship. From the opening seconds, Covington came forward and never allowed Dos Anjos to get into his rhythm. Much of this bout was spent in the clinch — where Covington outlanded Dos Anjos 81-57. Dos Anjos rallied briefly in the fourth round to score several takedowns. But Covington, the decorated college wrestler, displayed solid defense was able to get back to his feet. Covington, whose constant trash-talking and other antics haven’t won him many fans, promptly called out welterweight champion Tyron Woodley in the octagon post-fight.
— Holly Holm (12-4) def. Megan Anderson (8-3) by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-26, 30-26)
The touted UFC newcomer got a rude welcome to the promotion from Holm, who fought a terrific tactical fight to claim the victory. Despite her extensive boxing background, Holm looked to get this fight to the ground at every opportunity. And when she did, the 36-year-old had great success. She maintained top position for lengthy periods in all three rounds, and punctuated her victory with outstanding ground-and-pound. The numbers told the story. Holm dominated in terms of both significant strikes (65-22) and control time (10:39-0:00). It was a superb performance by Holm, who’s likely headed back down to bantamweight for a possible title showdown with Amanda Nunes.
— Tai Tuivasa (8-0) def. Andrei Arlovski (27-16) by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
For the first time in his UFC career, Tuivasa was extended past the first round — going the distance with a former UFC heavyweight champion in Arlovski. But the 25-year-old Australian answered a number of questions by outpointing the battle-tested veteran in a tight contest. Tuivasa, the former boxer, landed some terrific head strikes throughout the fight. A strong rally midway through the final round helped him put away the former champ, who showed his mettle and made the young fighter earn the victory. Tuivasa got the job done, and should move into the top 10 with the win. But he might need just a bit more seasoning before he’s ready to mix it up with the best in the division.
— Mike Jackson def. CM Punk (30-26, 30-26, 30-26)
Former WWE superstar CM Punk opened the pay-per-view telecast by dropping a unanimous decision to Mike Jackson. After flopping in his UFC debut in 2016, Punk showed improved technique in his return to the octagon — punctuating a competitive opening round with a takedown in the final minute. But the former wrestler’s inexperience showed in the second. After Jackson landed a strong right hand roughly one minute into the frame, Punk went for an ill-advised guillotine, which he did not execute. Then, when the fight went to the ground, Jackson connected with strike after strike while Punk stubbornly tried to punch from his back, rather than use his jiu-jitsu. A thoroughly exhausted Punk was dominated in the third, as Jackson showboated, but was not able to get the stoppage. Credit to Punk for an improved try, but this figures to be the last we see of the former WWE star in the UFC.
Curtis Blaydes def. Alistair Overeem via third-round TKO (2:56)