Their UFC 225 main event on Saturday night took a right turn the day before, when Romero missed weight by two-tenths of a pound, turning the bout scheduled to be contested for Romero’s UFC middleweight title into a non-title fight.
But when Romero and Whittaker stepped into the cage at Chicago’s United Center, much like their previous bout at UFC 213 last summer, it was five rounds of magic. The duo threw down for 25 minutes of sensational action in one of the year’s best fights.
In the end, Whittaker got the better end of two out of three 48-47 scores to claim a split-decision victory.
“It could have gone either way, he dropped me in the fourth in the fifth but I thought i controlled three rounds,” Whittaker said.
Over the opening two rounds, Romero appeared to be wearing the effects of what was by all accounts a brutal weight cut for the 41-year-old Cuban. Making matters worse, a glancing punch by Whittaker caused Romero’s right eye to swell nearly shut, leading many to assume the end was near.
Then came the frenetic third round, one of the hardest-hitting five minutes of fighting you’ll ever see. The duo played rock ‘em, sock ‘em robots as they landed uppercuts, kicks, and elbows that would have knocked out many other competitors. Neither fighter could put each other away and both made it to the fourth round.
By the fourth, it appeared obvious something was wrong with Whittaker’s right hand, as he stopped throwing punches with the hand (After the fight, Whittaker indicated he broke his hand in the first and couldn’t feel anything up to his elbow). Whittaker continued to move forward and land, including a kick which landed low and gave Romero a well-timed time-out.
Romero had a strong round in the fifth, dropping Whittaker and swarming him. But both fighters were exhausted and Whittaker survived to the final horn.
“He hits like a truck,” Whittaker said. “I know he looks weak, but man he has some power I’ll tell you that much. He cuaght me in the fourth and the fifth and I just survived.”
The victory is the ninth in a row for Whittaker, as the Sydney resident improved to 20-4. Romero dropped to 13-3 with two losses in his past three, both to Whittaker.