Nothing -- not fatigue, not a knee injury, not the physical specimen standing across from him -- was going to stop Robert Whittaker.
Whittaker laid claim to the interim Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight title with a five-round unanimous decision over Yoel Romero in the UFC 213 main event on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. All three cageside judges saw it the same: 48-47 for “The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes” winner.
Romero stormed out to a two-rounds-to-none lead, as he appeared to injure Whittaker’s knee with a series of devastating side kicks in the first round before incorporating a takedown and top control in the second. “The Reaper” did not blink, the adversity only serving to feed his flame. Romero tired to the point of exhaustion over the final 15 minutes, allowing the 26-year-old to slowly but surely leave his imprint on the match. By FightMetric count, Whittaker outstruck the American Top Team export in each of the last three frames: 13-5 in the third, 19-8 in the fourth and 45-38 in the fifth.
In the aftermath of UFC 213 “Romero vs. Whittaker,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Robert Whittaker vs. Michael Bisping: Whittaker has blossomed at 185 pounds. Since moving to middleweight in November 2014, the Australia-based New Zealand native has gone 7-0 and emerged from a long line of contenders. Whittaker has left Romero, Ronaldo Souza, Derek Brunson, Rafael Natal, Uriah Hall, Brad Tavares and Clint Hester in his wake while climbing the ladder rung by rung. Barring any unforeseen obstacles, he appears ticketed for a unification bout with Bisping later this year. The 38-year-old Bisping has not fought since he successfully defended the undisputed middleweight championship in a unanimous decision over Dan Henderson at UFC 204 in October.
Alistair Overeem vs. Stipe Miocic: He may not have set the world on fire with his performance, but Overeem nevertheless walked away with a majority decision in his rubber match against longtime rival Fabricio Werdum. The Jackson-Wink MMA representative has gone 6-1 -- he was knocked out by Miocic at UFC 203 in September -- over his past seven appearances and may prove to be the beneficiary of the heavyweight division’s lack of viable title contenders, with Werdum now out of the picture and Cain Velasquez still sidelined by injury. Miocic retained the heavyweight championship at UFC 211 on May 13, when he cut down Junior dos Santos with punches at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
Anthony Pettis vs. Beneil Dariush-Evan Dunham winner: Pettis abandoned his pursuits at 145 pounds, made a successful return to the lightweight division and for the most part looked like his old self, as he picked up a unanimous decision over Jim Miller. The 30-year-old Duke Roufus protégé remains an intriguing talent despite his recent struggles but will need to do more to get back to the top of the mountain in a weight class he once ruled. Losses to Eddie Alvarez, Rafael dos Anjos and Edson Barboza still hang over Pettis’ head. Dariush and Dunham are scheduled to lock horns at UFC 216 on Oct. 7.
Rob Font vs. Pedro Munhoz: Font continued to distance himself from a May 2016 decision defeat to the brick-fisted John Lineker, as he submitted Douglas Silva de Andrade with a second-round guillotine choke in their bantamweight showcase. Andrade tapped 4:36 into Round 2, giving the Team Sityodtong standout his second victory in as many outings. Font, 30, now owns a 4-1 mark under the UFC flag, with all four of his wins resulting in finishes. The former CES MMA champion has begun to make waves at 135 pounds. Munhoz last fought at UFC Fight Night 109 on May 28, when he took a unanimous decision from Damian Stasiak in Stockholm.
Alexey Oleynik vs. Stefan Struve-Alexander Volkov winner: They call him “The Boa Constrictor” for good reason. Oleynik put the squeeze on Travis Browne in the featured heavyweight prelim, as he submitted the 6-foot-7 Hawaiian with a rear-naked choke in the second round. Still going strong at age 40, the well-traveled Russian has won 13 of his last 14 fights -- a run that includes victories over Jared Rosholt, Mirko Filipovic and Jeff Monson. Struve and Volkov have been booked opposite one another in the UFC Fight Night 115 main event on Sept. 2 in Rotterdam, Netherlands.