A popular question being asked throughout the spring went like this: Which is the better pay-per-view, UFC 225 or UFC 226? As always, there’s never really a wrong answer with questions like these — in fact, there’s never really even a question in play. We only compare stacked cards to each other to delight in how spoiled we are that both are going to happen, and fortunately we don’t have to choose.
The only problem with this game is that only fools play it; cards rarely come off as they’re supposed to, and taking for granted any match-up is to jinx the entire operation. Chicago is another example. Even though tonight’s big UFC 225 event is still intact (we think), the glint of gold came off the main event when Yoel Romero failed to make weight for his main event title fight with Robert Whittaker. Or, to listen to Romero’s camp, when he was asked to cut short his attempt to lose the extra pound during the extended two-hour window after coming in over on his first attempt.
Whatever the case, the “Soldier of God” clocked in officially at 185.2 pounds, some 3.2 ounces over the 185-pound maximum. Now instead of a middleweight title fight at the United Center, we have a situation where the stakes can only hold together with a glue gun. If Whittaker wins, does it count as a title defense even though the title wasn’t in play? How can it? And if Romero wins, what does that mean, other than the UFC’s middleweight division could use the consultation of a good exorcist?
No, these are the real questions that end up being asked. It’s not “which is better,” so much as “oh no, what this time?”
Never before has a division refused to follow a straight line like the UFC’s 185-pound division. Whittaker only became the interim champion because the UFC insisted on doing Michael Bisping against Georges St-Pierre, and he only became the actual champion when St-Pierre ceded his title. His belt is, at best, a mirage — and now he can’t even defend the mirage. That title has become like the sound of a distant ice cream truck, where you can’t place which block the music’s coming from.
The UFC actually took measures against such an eventuality by making UFC 225’s co-main event an “interim” title fight, even though Colby Covington’s bout with Rafael dos Anjos is really just a rain check voucher for a date with actual champion Tyron Woodley. The UFC plans for disaster the way the National Guard does. For all the good intentions, it can’t catch a break.
Tonight’s fight is particularly galling given that Romero missed weight in his previous bout in Australia just to land in the big spot. That was at UFC 221, when Whittaker was supposed to defend his title against Luke Rockhold yet ended up withdrawing with a staph infection. If anybody needed to show up and make weight without incident, it was Romero. It sucks doubly that Romero did damage to himself trying to make the weight…and triply because, well, Whittaker has done everything by the book.
It’s hard to blame “Bobby Knuckles” for anything that has happened in the division that he now rules by default. He is taking a rematch with Romero because of a set of fateful circumstances, and he the circumstances just keep exploding into asterisks. In a just world, Whittaker will be able to go in there and duplicate what he did against Romero last July at UFC 213. Maybe he does it more emphatic this time so that momentum carries over to his next first title defense. That would hopefully get the division moving some place easier to follow. That would be a tidy outcome for the UFC.
Yet if Romero wins, after missing weight on back-to-back occasions, what a mess it all becomes. We would then have a champion who is 0-1 since being crowned, and a challenger who is now 2-0 in title fights that he made himself ineligible for, in a division that exists in a hall of mirrors.
Nobody could’ve predicted these would be the stakes heading into the first big show on the summer schedule, but that’s how the UFC rolls in 2018. The better cards are the ones we can most easily understand, and those are few and far between.