Israel Adesanya has put on a number of dazzling displays since arriving in the UFC, but it’s not likely his win over Yoel Romero will end up on his all-time highlight reel.
The UFC 248 main event was largely a slow affair with very little output as both champion and challenger were very wary to engage, but it in the end, it was Adesanya’s kicking game that likely helped him to hold onto the middleweight title after five grueling rounds.
The judges scored the fight 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46 - all for Adesanya.
“It was a hard fight but cliché I did what I had to do,” Adesanya said afterwards. “I f*cked his leg up. I did what I had to do. I picked him apart. I did what I had to do to win that fight.”
The fight moved at a glacial pace as the threat of Romero’s immense power had Adesanya being very cautious every time he threw a strike. In a largely uneventful opening round, Romero landed the only significant shot that cracked Adesanya in the eye and had him blinking for several minutes.
Constantly coiled like a spring, Romero looked like he was ready to explode at any moment. When he finally did launch an attack, Romero rushed forward with a barrage of strikes as he looked to trap Adesanya against the cage while throwing a flurry of punches.
As the fight moved into the third round, “The Last Stylebender” was still reserved with his offense but he did manage to crack Romero with a few good kicks including a stinging shot to the body as well as one straight to the jaw.
The chess game continued with the Las Vegas crowd becoming restless as Adesanya was trying to find an opening and Romero still posturing in front of him. While the volume remained low, Adesanya did start to find a home for a series of leg kicks that began forming a massive welt on Romero’s thigh.
Adesanya kept assaulting that lead leg to rack up points on the scorecards with Romero starting to move forward with more aggression knowing that time was running out on him. In the final two minutes, Romero tried to hunt Adesanya down but the champion was just too smart and too elusive to get caught with anything coming at him until the fight came to a close.
While not his most thrilling performance, Adesanya will still leave as the middleweight champion with a win over Romero on his record. As for what comes next, Adesanya wasted no time turning his attention to Paulo Costa, who has already been named as the No. 1 contender for the title.
“This guy’s going to actually come forward and try to f*ck with me,” Adesanya said when addressing Costa. “I’m going to f*ck this motherf*cker up. I’ll see you soon, boy.”
Meanwhile, Romero was dejected after falling short in his latest bid to become UFC champion. The loss put Romero at just 1-4 in his past five fights but more than anything he just seemed upset that the fight played out the way it did.
“He’s running and running and running,” Romero said. “Like the people in Rome, like the gladiators. That’s what the people want to see here.”