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UFC 225: Pros predict Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero, Rafael dos Anjos vs. Colby Covington, discuss CM Punk on main card

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

CHICAGO — There’s not much consensus on one of the most stacked cards of the year.

Robert Whittaker beat Yoel Romero in a razor-close fight last summer and the two will meet again in what should have been a UFC middleweight title fight. Romero missed weight Friday, rendering the UFC 225 main event a non-title one.

In the co-main event, Rafael dos Anjos takes on the brash Colby Covington for the interim welterweight belt. Dos Anjos, the former lightweight champion, is the more established star, but Covington is coming on strong — and not just with his mouth.

And then there’s the oddity in the group of great fights — a matchup between two 0-1 fighters, CM Punk and Mike Jackson. Punk is a former WWE champion and a huge name her in his hometown of Chicago. Jackson only has a bit more combat sports experience than Punk, in boxing and kickboxing.

There is a lot to discuss about UFC 225, which takes place Saturday at United Center. So, we asked the athletes competing on the card about who they think will win the top bouts and how they feel about CM Punk being in a main-card position.

Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero

Anthony Smith: “I think it’s gonna be a great fight again. I’ve always been a big Robert Whittaker fan. I just like his style, I like his attitude. He’s mentality is really strong. He’s a family guy like myself. It’s easy to root for a guy like that. He injured his knee real bad in the first round of the first fight and was still able to grit out a decision. I think with a torn up knee and able to get out of there with a W against a guy like Romero, I think if he’s healthy and stays healthy, even if Romero has made some adjustments I still think Whittaker is gonna be efficient and still get the W.”

Mirsad Bektic: “It’s tough, because they fought right before and Whittaker won. It’s a 50-50, they’re both good. But I have confidence in Yoel. This guy is just so relaxed and he’s a wrestler, but he’s knocking guys out. It’s hard to bet against him.”

Sergio Pettis: “Honestly, it could go either way. I’m a big fan of Yoel, big fan of Whittaker, as well. They both have different styles, both are explosive, both are amazing athletes. Whoever wins, wins. That’s how it is in this game. Whoever wins, wins that night. Whittaker won the last one, maybe Romero wins this time. I’m going for Romero, that’s my boy.”

Mike Santiago: “Romero is a freak. In the best way, though. In the best way, he is amazing. But the same with Whittaker. He’s young, strong, he’s a hungry champion. It can go really either way. I would edge it out to Whittaker a little bit, because he already has that edge over Romero after the first one. But anything can happen. This if the UFC, this is the fight game. It’s gonna be fireworks, though. I know that.”

Ricardo Lamas: Whittaker is so tough, having blown out his knee in the first round of the last fight and he still came back and was scoring takedowns and won. It’s incredible, especially against one of the best wrestlers arguably in the UFC. But the thing about Yoel is that every loss that he has, he learns from and improves from. We’re gonna see what happens in this fight.

Rafael dos Anjos vs. Colby Covington

Santiago: “Everyone has got a shot to win, but I think dos Anjos is a little too much for Colby. Dos Anjos has fought a lot of the top guys, he’s been in the game for a long time. I know Colby is still making his way up to the top, but I think he’s too caught up in saying certain things. that’s just not my style. I understand that it could be his style — that’s not my style. i think that dos Anjos is really gonna put it on him how no one has yet before.”

Claudia Gadelha: “I think dos Anjos will kill him. I don’t know what he’s expecting. Dos Anjos will shut his mouth. I’ll say TKO or submission in the second round.”

Pettis: “I really haven’t seen Colby perform, honestly. For me, I really haven’t tuned into his fight. I don’t know much about him. He could go out there and talk the talk and walk the walk — who knows? He does have different tactics of getting people’s minds. It is what it is. It’s a fight, sometimes you have to do that. I know Rafael is gonna go out there and do work, he always does. He’s a f*cking monster. We’ll see who wins.”

Smith: “I don’t really know. To be honest with you, I haven’t watched Colby fight that much. I just haven’t watched him fight that much. And I don’t know why. Me saying that is exactly the reason why Colby is doing what he’s doing right now. If I’m saying that — I’m a huge fight fan, I’m an MMA junkie — so if I’m saying that then there’s probably a lot of people who haven’t watched him fight. So, maybe he’s doing the right thing. Maybe it’s a little bit over the line and pushes the envelope a little bit, but he’s gotta get those eyes on him. With that being said, dos Anjos is a hard fight. RDA is a bad dude. So, from the little bit that I’ve watched Colby, he’s a super efficient wrestler, he’s persistent. It’s a winnable fight for him, for sure. Bur RDA is a different beast right now. If I had to die on the hill, I would go with RDA, but I don’t know for sure.”

Carla Esparza: “I think sometimes the foreplay to the fight is kind of hilarious. [Covington is] a character. He’s definitely getting the fans interested, especially the Brazilian fans. … He’s getting people excited, which is cool. Hopefully he can back it up or he’s gonna have a lot of trash talk.”

Should CM Punk vs. Mike Jackson be on the main card?

Lamas: “It’s not [Punk’s] fault. He’s playing the hand that he was dealt. It was the UFC’s decision to put him on the main card, not him. I’m not gonna hold it against him.”

Gadelha: “Hey, you’ve gotta look that way that it’s a business. If I was the president of the UFC or owner, I’d want to make money rather than make a fighter happy. I know there’s a lot of respectful things behind all that — respecting martial artists and things like that. But when money is involved and the company is so big and they have to make money, I get what they’re doing.”

Pettis: “I love CM Punk. He’s a great athlete, great martial artist. He’s grown to be a great martial artist from wrestling background. Man, let the guys fight. It’s gonna be a fight. Entertainment is entertainment. He’s got a big name behind him, it makes sense for the UFC to do it.”

Bektic: “[Punk has] got a bigger name than [others] do. Who are you? If you go ask, people probably know CM Punk better than they know me. Of course, you have more value you’re gonna get more money. It’s just business, it’s not personal. His name has more value than mine does and for that, he deserves to be on there.”

Pettis: “I think he’s improved a lot, honestly. He’s put his game together. He’s kind of figured out who he is. His first fight, he kind of just went out there not knowing really what to do. You can throw anybody in the UFC out there first time, they’re gonna be like, ‘what the f*ck is this?’ Now he’s got some time, he’s got that feeling of the Octagon, feeling of competition and I believe he’s gonna do well.”

Esparza: “Honestly, it really doesn’t bother me. This isn’t just a sport. It’s an entertainment sport. And not only does CM Punk have a huge following through wrestling, but this is his hometown. There’s a lot of people coming out to see him. So, I can understand why they did it.”

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