Middleweight champion Robert Whittaker defeated Yoel Romero in a fast-paced rematch by split decision (48-47, 47-48, 48-47) in a non-title main event at UFC 225 on Saturday.
Whittaker (20-4) took a decision win in their first meeting, which was also one of the year’s best contests. He extended his undefeated run to nine straight overall (eight at middleweight), while Romero (13-3) has now dropped two of his last three.
The title was not on the line as Romero missed weight by 0.2 lbs on Friday, though that didn’t keep either fighter from expelling all of their energy.
After gassing himself in their first meeting last July, Romero did not start the fight in a hurry, appearing to conserve his energy for later rounds as Whittaker had to work to find some clean shots.
To start the second, Romero came out a little more aggressive, though still wary of Whittaker’s striking prowess. The two middleweights stayed at a distance from one another using front kicks and jabs. Whittaker then caught a break as a seemingly harmless shot swelled up Romero’s right eye, putting the former Olympian at a major disadvantage midway through the round.
Though his corner did a great job to control the swelling, Romero appeared to be fighting with more urgency, sensing the fight would be tough to win on the scorecards over five rounds. The strategy looked like working as he stunned Whittaker early in the third round, though it may have woken the titleholder up as the two fighters would furiously exchange strikes at an amazing pace until the third horn sounded.
With both men visibly fatigued, the fourth round took a predictably slower pace as Whittaker looked reluctant to throw his right hand, which he later confirmed was injured, but Romero gathered energy for a burst of strikes at the end of the round to wobble his opponent before the last five minutes. Romero appeared to be close to a TKO with three minutes remaining, but Whittaker stayed active enough for the referee to keep the fight alive.
There was talk from commentators that the final round should have been scored 10-8 for Romero, but none of the judges agreed.
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