Robert Whittaker celebrates after his victory over Yoel Romero

From the opening minute to the final bell at the end of round five. Whittaker vs. Romero II will forever hold a place in UFC’s all-time classic main events. Regardless of the preliminary hurdles that made the fight almost stop from taking place, Whittaker put on a performance at UFC 225 that would cement his legacy as one of the greatest 185-pound fighters of our era.

In one fight, Whittaker showed all aspects of the championship mentality that saw him overcome serious danger in multiple rounds. For the second time in his career, he bested one of the most elite middleweight’s in the game and once again claimed his throne as “The Reaper” of his division.

To understand the tactical brilliance of Robert Whittaker in this bout, you have to acquaint yourself with Yoel Romero’s dynamic style first. Romero presents a unique problem to any fighter he faces. His level of grappling is unparalleled, and his physical strength transcends to his striking just as effectively.

Over the years, Romero has modified his striking to specialize in short burst offense. He’ll often lull his opponent into a compromising position with his stoic stance, and burst into life with eccentric strikes. These tactics worked to fruition against Chris Weidman and his recipe for success has followed this M.O. ever since.

To put it mildly, Yoel Romero knows what it takes to get any opponent out of there quickly. The level of danger is high, and his striking has only gotten more cerebral since his move to Jackson-Wink. In their first fight, Romero showed some new tricks with an oblique kick that caused problems early. Not only did it compromise Whittaker during the fight, but the damage put on that leg forced him out of competition for almost an entire year. Even though Whittaker walked away as champion, the damage to his body took a toll.

Establishing a precedent

The mental fortitude to get up and do it again after his layoff was no small task. The medial knee injury Whittaker suffered naturally put a damper on his activity as champion. In the meantime, Yoel Romero claimed an unofficial rematch with his devastating finish of Luke Rockhold.

Instead of getting his legacy fight with Georges St-Pierre, it was back to the Lion’s Den for Whittaker. In most rematches, the familiarity between fighters makes for tighter game plans. This second time around, Whittaker’s team had Romero’s offense mapped out to a tee.

In the first round, Whittaker established his offensive feints and defensive movements to keep Romero at bay. By utilizing the jab and his own oblique kicks, Whittaker negated much of the firepower Romero was willing to expend in the opening minutes. Even still, Romero remained poised in the pocket and waited for his moment to pounce.

As Whittaker started to stuff up the stat sheet with his offensive output, Romero kept Whittaker on his toes by exploding every so often. Romero would walk away from the second round with a severely swollen right eye.

Due to the confidence in his strike accumulation, Whittaker started to up the tempo in round three — much to his detriment. The trades started to get sloppy, and Romero made sure to capitalize. With a quick counter straight, Romero found the chin of Whittaker and had him on wobbly legs. This was the first real moment of danger for the defending champion. In the minutes that followed, Whittaker dug deep to prevent becoming another casualty to Romero’s right hand.

Yoel Romero of Cuba (R) attempts to take down Robert Whittaker of New Zealand (L)
Yoel Romero attempts to take down Robert Whittaker (Source: Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

High-stakes chess

This is the mark of a true champion. Robert Whittaker stared down the barrel of danger and somehow kept his composure. In the eye of the storm, he found his moments of recollection. Slowly but surely, Whittaker started to rewrite the script that cost so many fighters their chance against Yoel Romero. With good clinch control, short elbows and a ton of heart, Whittaker somehow held on.

In the middle of a hail storm, he even managed to counter Romero with a head kick that stunned the crowd and kept the round from being a lopsided 10-8. Many pundits have considered round three of this bout as the definitive ‘Round of the Year’ for 2018.

After that commitment to the finish in round three, Romero had to tone down the action in the following round. The lack of tempo meant a return to normalcy for the Champion. His incessant front kicks and jab continued to hone in on Romero’s swollen eye. Bit by bit, Whittaker broke down the staunch defense of Romero and found a home for his left hand.

At this point, it was fairly noticeable that Whittaker’s body was compromised. The right hand was rarely used and his offense was reliant on lead leg kicks to keep his opponent sharp. The investment of body strikes throughout the fight started to pay dividends as Romero’s cardio began to run down.

It wouldn’t be a Yoel Romero fight without some last-minute fireworks though. At this stage, Whittaker secured three rounds on the scorecards from a point perspective. Round five was all or nothing for Romero and those last five minutes may have been his finest. Although not known for his longevity in the octagon, Romero made sure to conserve his energy to give him a chance for one final knockout. If it wasn’t for Robert Whittaker’s insane toughness, he may have just gotten his wish.

Can’t be stopped

With three minutes left to go in the fight, Romero pulled out the ace up his sleeve. After failing to hit his straight, he waited for Whittaker to bounce up from his duck and roll and plopped him back down with a monster left hook. For any normal man, this is surely the end of the road. But “The Reaper” doesn’t play by the rules of mortals, and thus, the greatest show of perseverance in the history of the UFC took place. This surge from the dead was akin to Frankie Edgar in his unbelievable fights against Gray Maynard.

Robert Whittaker refused to quit, and the will to go on trumped Romero’s power yet again. Romero quite literally emptied his tank on trying to secure his opponent and find that ground and pound he’s administered so well in the past.

The indefatigable will of Whittaker was just too much for him on the night. The damage was already done to Romero and his energy was too depleted to finish the job. For the second successive time, Robert Whittaker reigned victorious over his toughest opponent yet.

In one fell swoop, Robert Whittaker achieved his crowning moment as one of the toughest and most decorated fighters in the UFC. The split decision was a fair call, but it was obvious that Whittaker did enough to secure his title. In the post-fight interview, he confirmed the broken right hand he suffered in round one. Ever the sportsman, he kept his cool and gave nothing but love to his opponent and the booing Chicago crowd.

If you can think of a fight that ‘had it all’ in 2018, look no further than Whittaker vs. Romero II. Whether it’s the comebacks, knockdowns, head kicks or the excruciating back and forth. The poetry that resonated from this fight had a rippling effect that kept fans on the edge of their seats from beginning to end. A ‘Fight of the Year’ and ‘Round of the Year’ contender, all in one. Hell, the combination even gives scallops wrapped in bacon a run for their money.

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