Preview: UFC 225 ‘Whittaker vs. Romero 2’

Whittaker vs. Romero

By Josh Stillman Jun 8, 2018

UFC 225 is now available on Amazon Prime.

After weeks of lamenting about weak six-hour-plus offerings, the wait is over: the Ultimate Fighting Championship delivers a stellar, stacked card in Chicago this Saturday. UFC 225 includes quality fighters in compelling matchups throughout. Nearly every bout on this slate could main event or co-headline cards like we’ve seen the past month. There are a few notable exceptions in terms of top-flight talent, most obviously the Phil Brooks farce. But this is far and away the best lineup in months, and nothing in the coming weeks gets close either until July’s blockbuster UFC 226.

The main event sees the two best middleweights in the world, champion Robert Whittaker and force of nature Yoel Romero, run it back, this time for the undisputed strap. And as unnecessary as it may have been to create an interim welterweight title for the co-headliner between Rafael dos Anjos and Colby Covington, the fight has legitimate stakes, just as it’s an obvious shot at incumbent 170-pound champion and frequent Dana White foil Tyron Woodley.

The theme of the rest of the card seems to be prospects looking to become contenders at the expense of established veterans. Joseph Benavidez duels Sergio Pettis at the top of the flyweight division. Featherweight uber-prospect Mirsad Bektic locks horns with former title challenger Ricardo Lamas. And Curtis Blaydes attempts to stake his claim for a title shot opposite Alistair Overeem.

Without further introduction, let’s get to the analysis and picks for UFC 225.

Middleweight Championship:
Robert Whittaker (19-4) vs. Yoel Romero (13-2)
Odds: Whittaker (-225), Romero (+185)

The storyline coming out of the pair’s initial UFC 213 meeting was that Whittaker left victorious despite having his lead knee damaged by Romero in the opening minutes. Whittaker hasn’t fought since that July matchup, a proposed pairing with Luke Rockhold scuttled by a career-threatening staph infection in his stomach. Whether “The Reaper” can return to his previous form following such debilitating ailments is an open question.

Romero, meanwhile, stepped in to face Rockhold, again for the interim title. But he missed weight, setting up a confusing situation where one competitor was ineligible for the belt. This somewhat dulled the shine of his electric third-round knockout, yet another in a seemingly unsustainable string of them.

Since their first fight was so recent, let’s examine the takeaways and what adjustments we might expect from them. As previously mentioned, Romero hurt Whittaker’s left knee with the hopping side kick preferred by some Jackson-Wink MMA fighters, though the Cuban fights out of American Top Team. Despite telling his corner “my leg is trashed” after the first round, Whittaker went on to win the final three frames, speaking to his toughness, grit, and ability. “Bobby Knuckles” needed his chin, too, during spots, as Romero was able to crack him in exchanges and land his patented blitzing bombs on occasion -- whether they were flying knees or left hands. But, absent his usual third-round finish, the Cuban’s cardio waned badly. He remained dangerous in the early stages of each round, even aggressively pressuring at times and producing his greatest output in the fifth round. But when he failed to find the knockout blow, Romero largely became a sitting duck halfway through the round. Whittaker kicked him in the gut, shucked off desperate takedowns, and met his increasingly telegraphed lunges with jabs and step-in elbows. The champion even ended the fight with about two minutes of top control on the gassed former Olympian after Romero slipped and was too slow to rise.

Whittaker is a healthier favorite this time around, and it’s not hard to see why. Barring another early injury, Whittaker should have more success and be able to push a higher pace, giving him a greater edge after already winning the first fight. Romero is always supremely dangerous, but Whittaker minimizes the risk with his footwork, speed, chin, and airtight takedown defense.

The former Olympian needs opportunities to rest to replenish his quickly draining gas tank. He tried holding Whittaker against the cage and enjoyed some time on top after finally consolidating top position in the second. But trying to corral Whittaker, take him down and hold him down is an exhausting proposition in and of itself. Whittaker has a great sense of urgency about staying away from the cage, denying many of the opportunities Romero relies on to blitz his foe against the cage, clinch or shoot.

While Romero’s bouncy, rhythmic movement can lull opponents to sleep and the threat of his massive power can make them gun-shy, Whittaker was not and will not be fazed. His combination boxing ability allows him to hit Romero, despite the Cuban’s improved defense, and he can kick the body liberally without fear of being taken down. Romero might have to get after Whittaker early and try to compromise or finish him before his cardio falls off a cliff. But that will only exacerbate the problem. I have serious reservations about Romero as a 2-1 underdog, but Whittaker gets it done by decision once again.

Continue Reading » Dos Anjos vs. Covington
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