If you were going to create a movie based around a fighting champion from Australia or New Zealand, the storyline might go something like this: The stoic man from the faraway land was so tough, he broke his leg during his fight with a monster of an opponent and won. Then he rematched the same guy, broke his hand, and won for the second time. Then he returned home, where we didn’t hear from him until it was time to fight again.
The only way such a scenario could be more of a Down Under cliche would be if there were kangaroos bouncing around in the background while all this went down.
The UFC middleweight champion has found all sorts of nonsense swirling around him during his ride to the title, from his interim title fight with Romero being elevated to the main event when Amanda Nunes-Valentina Shevchenko fell out the morning of UFC 213; to having to watch Georges St-Pierre get gifted a title shot after four years away; to Romero missing weight for his fight with Luke Rockhold, then getting the shot at Whittaker anyway at UFC 225, then missing weight yet again.
Whittaker could have refused the bout after Romero missed weight for UFC 225’s scheduled title fight at Chicago’s United Center, but that’s not in his makeup. Instead, he took the fight without complaint, then went out and did his part to deliver a matchup that is going to place high on the Fight of the Year list when all’s said and done.
The duo threw down with the same sort of reckless abandon we saw in their UFC 213 fight last year. The heart shown by both fighters was as if Justin Gaethje became a middleweight and developed a more well-rounded skill set. Whittaker broke his right hand, his biggest weapon, in the first round. Romero couldn’t see out of his right eye much of the fight.
And yet, they still went tooth-and-nail for 25 minutes, putting on the sort of exuberant display that reminded us that even in this day and age in which the bullsh*t knob on this sport’s amplifier has been turned up to 11, the appeal of two warriors leaving their heart and soul in the cage can still transcend all else.
Hat’s off to Romero, whose accomplishments at his age have been truly remarkable, for doing his part to make an extraordinary pair of matchups with Whittaker so great. Hopefully Romero has the sense to go up to light heavyweight from here, because those weight cuts aren’t going to get any easier at age 41 and beyond.
But in the end, the most plaudits go to the victor. And once again, Whittaker, who seems to be allergic to nonsense, quietly went out and delivered something amazing under trying circumstances. That’s nine wins in a row for the all-action champ.
A fighter like Whittaker should be able to sell on his own merits, without the bells and whistles. “This guy will give you your money’s worth every time you pay to see him fight” is a timeless pitch.
Perhaps a little more old-school promotional muscle and a little less pro wrestling sideshow on WME/Endeavor’s end would help push Whittaker’s drawing power over the top.
UFC 225 quotes
“This is the undisputed strap. He had the chance to fight me last December. He was good to fight Nate Diaz, he was good to fight [Georges St-Pierre], but he couldn’t get his money fight and all of a sudden he needs preventative shoulder surgery that he waited eight months to get after Demian Maia.” — Colby Covington with words for welterweight champion Tyron Woodley.
“I think anything you lose, you want back. Something that’s dear to you, that’s probably close to my heart, but I want it all. I don’t think that you even get in this game if you don’t want it all. I want it all. I want victories, I want belts, I want all of it.” — Holly Holm has title options at two weight classes following her dominant win over Megan Anderson.
“Michael Jackson, I’m not happy with. This guy was acting like a goofball tonight. You get this opportunity to fight CM Punk and you’re doing like bolo punches to the body on top? Never looked like he was trying to finish the fight ever, right? Looked like he could have finished the fight a few times. Never tried. I don’t know what that guy did for a living before we gave him this shot, but whatever it was he needs to go back and do that again. He’s 0-2 as far as I’m concerned.” — UFC president Dana White, who put two 0-1 fighters on a pay-per-view main card, unhappy with the fight’s quality.
Down: CM Punk. Yes, I know: We’re supposed to tip our hats to Punk and credit him for chasing his dreams. Cool. And yes, I know: CM Punk brought attention to the show and made money and yadda yadda yadda. Great. None of this changes the fact that Punk vs. Mike Jackson was the worst abomination of a fight on a major MMA show since Kimbo Slice vs. Dada 5000. Punk looked so fundamentally unsound that you had to question exactly how much time he actually spent training with a trainer as top-notch as Duke Roufus. Can you really work with someone of his caliber for three-and-a-half years and not pick up anything? Jackson, too, looked bad in hot dogging so obviously that Joe Rogan was half-seriously speculating if he was asked to carry Punk. And White topped it all off by placing all the blame on Jackson, as if White wasn’t the promoter who decided to pay Punk a ton of money and put him on the PPV portion of the card after Punk’s stinker of a debut against Mickey Gall at UFC 203. The sooner we all walk away from this saga and pretend it never happened, the better for all concerned.
Up: Holly Holm. UFC 225 had turned into a bit of a depressing affair by the time Holm came out to the cage for her bout with Megan Anderson. There was a long string of veteran losses, as well as the Punk circus. And then Holm put on a magnificent display in her victory over Anderson. Fighting up against a large featherweight who could probably fight at lightweight, Holm using veteran guile to neutralize her bigger foe. From there, she showed off a ground game which has improved by leaps and bounds. And she comes out of her 30-26-level win as a sellable PPV headliner in a title fight against either Amanda Nunes or Cris Cyborg. UFC 225 was a grand slam of a night for Holly Holm.
Down: Rashad Evans. This one’s tough to write. Rashad Evans is one of the most real dudes we’ve ever had come our way. He’s been around forever. He was a phenomenal fighter in his prime and he was a world champion. He wears his heart on his sleeve and his been open about how difficult it has been to deal with his current losing streak. And that all makes what happened last night so tough to watch. Evans was knocked out in under a minute by Anthony Smith. That’s five losses in a row, and if he continues with his career, by the time he returns, it will be five years since his last victory. Evans is still hedging his bets on whether to continue, but no one wants to see him keep taking beatings. Hopefully those around him have the courage to get him to make the right call.
Up: Curtis Blaydes. There are wins, and then there are statements. Blaydes made a statement in his third-round finish of Alistair Overeem, one that announced to the world that he is a for-real contender in the UFC heavyweight division. The Chicago native announced to his hometown that he wants a title fight next. I admire his confidence. I’m also a bit gun-shy about suggesting Blaydes get a title shot right away, after doing the same with Francis Ngannou and then watching Stipe Miocic pick Ngannou apart. But if Blaydes continues his proper progression, he should be one about one or at most two fights away from that opportunity. Either way, the kid’s legit.
Up: Colby Covington. Covington’s schtick isn’t just corny, it’s ineffective: For someone who has won six fights in a row, is 9-1 in the UFC and now has a title belt around his waist, Covington has 37.8K Twitter followers, about 1/5th the number of the man he beat last night, Rafael dos Anjos. So the messaging isn’t exactly rocketing him to stardom. Which is a shame, because if he hadn’t taken this right, he might be earning more plaudits for his superlative work in the cage. Covington upped his game in his biggest career spotlight and shut down RDA for most of the fight. Covington is a legit elite talent and a matchup with Tyron Woodley is great for all the right reasons, even though the hype will play to all the wrong ones.
I could have gone any way on the Whittaker-Romero decision: Whittaker win, Romero win, or draw. None of the above would constitute a robbery, as some fights are just that close. Romero, for his part, tried to gin up a controversy about the commission and his weight cut, saying he was stopped short. But Romero’s been in one too many gray-area moments over the years and it’s hard to give someone in such a position the benefit of the doubt.
Beyond that controversy, there were no major flash points on the officiating end of things. Dan Miragliotta could have waved off Blaydes-Overeem an elbow or two sooner, but it wasn’t egregiously bad. At the end of the day, we’ve had far worse nights than Saturday in Chicago.
Fight I’d like to see next: Holly Holm vs. Amanda Nunes
I was banging the drum as loud as anyone for a women’s superfight between featherweight champion Cyborg and bantamweight champ Nunes. But to paraphrase the late, great “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, just when you think you have the answers, Holly changes the questions. Holm’s victory over Megan Anderson put her in the driver’s seat as the most sellable challenger in either weight class. We saw Holm vs. Cyborg just over five months ago. Holm vs. Nunes is fresh, new, and interesting in a way that Cyborg-Holm 2 just isn’t right now.