LAS VEGAS -- Robert Whittaker told his corner after the first round of his UFC 213 main event bout with Yoel Romero that his left leg was jacked.
But that wasn’t about to stop him.
The New Zealand native and Australia resident lived up to Down Under’s legendary toughness on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena, as he pushed through the pain and went toe-to-toe with one of the world’s toughest middleweights.
Whittaker rallied over the final three rounds in a grueling matchup and won a unanimous decision. All three judges scored the bout 48-47 in his favor.
Romero, a world-class wrestler who won a 2000 Olympic silver medal, got off to a strong start, taking the first two rounds. He landed crisp strikes in short bursts and implemented his wrestling game. An inside kick all but blew out Whittaker’s knee.
Whittaker, though, proved to have deft defense, and when Romero got him to the mat, Whittaker popped back to his feet each time. He picked up the pace in the third and began throwing frequent kicks with his right leg. This threw off Romero’s timing, and Whittaker picked up the pace over the third and fourth rounds.
Both fighters displayed urgency in the final round, but Whittaker scored a late knockdown and spent most of the rest of the round in top position, helping to seal the deal on the decision.
“It definitely was impacting my game,” Whittaker said of the injury. “I was trying to establish the jab. It was pretty bad, but champions are made of this stuff.”
Whittaker (19-5) has now won eight fights in a row, and is expected to face middleweight champ Michael Bisping after he returns from a knee injury.
“I think he’s the champ,” Whittaker said. “I think he’s a veteran and tough and a champ for a reason.”
Romero (13-2) had an eight-fight win streak snapped.
“It was very close,” Romero said. “But he win the fight. It’s happens for a reason.”