Unless the UFC is sabotaged by one of its own stars this week, Saturday’s UFC 225 pay-per-view looks like the deepest event of the year.
The same was said about UFC 223 two months ago in Brooklyn, before things started to unravel. There was an incident involving a famous Irishman, a dolly, a bus. Glass was shattered. Fights fell apart. You remember.
Despite one last-minute change, the UFC 225 lineup is as deep as it gets. There were to be two title fights, but with Yoel Romero missing weight on Friday, his rematch with Robert Whittaker will be a nontitle fight. Still, there are five former UFC champions on the card. Multiple rising prospects. Even a former pro wrestling star.
Here’s everything you need to know about the UFC 225 main event, courtesy of ESPN’s Cheat Sheets.
Odds: Whittaker -220; Romero +180 (prior to weigh-in miss)
Nearly one year ago, Robert Whittaker defeated Yoel Romero in a hard, competitive five-round interim title fight.
His reward should have been a unification bout against Michael Bisping or Georges St-Pierre, but Bisping retired and St-Pierre, who won the belt in 2017, elected to leave the division after just one appearance. So, Whittaker’s reward for last summer’s win against Romero is … a second fight against him.
It feels like a raw deal. Whittaker is the undisputed champ, but he didn’t get that “defining moment” as a new champion in the Octagon. And while Romero is well known, beating him again won’t raise Whittaker’s profile like a victory against Bisping or St-Pierre would have. This is especially the case after Romero missed weight (by 2/10th of a pound!) on his second try Friday.
That is, at least, one way of looking at it. Whittaker, of Australia, chooses to view it differently.
“I don’t think I got the short end of the stick,” Whittaker said. “I walked into a title. That was great. And I get to fight the same dude I beat once. Come on, it’s how you look at things.”
One can’t help but admire Whittaker’s attitude, even if the 27-year-old is just one fight into his title reign.
He went into the first bout against Romero, at UFC 213, with a strained left knee. Within the first minute, Whittaker absorbed an oblique kick to the same knee, and tore his MCL. Judges had him down on the scorecards 20-18 after two rounds before he rallied to take the final three on one good leg.
“There was never a moment I thought I could lose,” Whittaker said. “I feel like, if you think you can lose, you’re already putting a foot out the door. The one thing that did go through my head in rounds 1 and 2 was, ‘How am I going to win?’ After busting my leg, it hurt a lot. I had to think about how I was going to win.”
Time would seem to be on Whittaker’s side in the rematch, as Romero celebrated his 41st birthday two months ago. The former Olympic silver medalist for Cuba has shown no sign of slowing down, however, and is coming off a stunning knockout over Luke Rockhold in February. (Romero missed weight in that one, too.)
Despite the fact he’s older, Romero believes experience is actually what cost him in his loss to Whittaker. And that’s obviously not a factor anymore.
“When I have a time and the moment to finish [the fight], I will,” Romero said. “This is the big moment, the title. It’s not like in the beginning, when I get to the UFC and want to learn what is the feeling of the Octagon. What can you do when someone jabs? Something like that. It’s not like this when you fight for the title.
“Now, when you have the moment to kill, you do it.”
The big question for me in this rematch is how and when does Romero choose to use his energy?
At the end of the day, one look at the scorecards of the first fight tells you a lot. Romero was up 2-0 in rounds after the first 10 minutes, but went on to lose 3-2. He gassed. And once he gassed, his offense was not only less effective, but far less frequent. And he was a sitting duck for Whittaker’s striking.
Romero attempted 18 takedowns when they met last July. I’m guessing that number will be significantly lower this time around. Whittaker’s takedown defense and ability to work back to his feet after being taken down was eye-opening. Romero achieved very little trying to wrestle, except to wear himself out.
If Romero does, in fact, wrestle less, well, that means we have a stand-up battle, right? And Whittaker does have an edge there.
He strings combinations together well, his timing is superb and he throws at a much higher clip than Romero. It’s not surprising to hear Romero talk about a finish, because with his style and cardio limitations, beating Whittaker on the cards will be a tough task.
Watch the left hand of Romero, and perhaps whether he can make his wrestling more efficient this time. Catch a Whittaker kick, or only shoot near the end of the round to try to sway a judge or two. If Whittaker neutralizes those two things with grappling defense and stand-up pressure, his offense will take care of itself.
Prediction: Whittaker by decision.