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Retro Robbery Review: Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero 2

Yoel Romero and Robert Whittaker at UFC 225 on June 9, 2018, in Chicago
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Few things infuriate MMA fans more than a fight being scored incorrectly, though the term “robbery” tends to be thrown around carelessly and is often steeped in bias. With Robbery Review, we’ll take a look back at controversial fights and determine whether the judges were rightly criticized for their decision or if pundits need to examine their own knee-jerk reactions.

Robert Whittaker is easy to like. Whether it’s due to his exciting style or affable persona, there’s a lot for a fight fan to appreciate, so you know it takes a lot for someone to try and bring down his reputation. However, there’s one result on his resume that sticks out like a sore thumb and remains a point of discussion ever since it occurred at UFC 225 in Chicago on June 9, 2018.

For some, the prevailing image from Whittaker’s second fight is not him going the full five rounds and walking out as champion, but would-be challenger Yoel Romero (he missed weight for the contest and was ineligible to win the title) nearly finishing Whittaker. Romero has been called the most dangerous fighter at 185 pounds and in his second fight with Whittaker, he showed that maybe he deserved to be called the best too.

Whittaker won on points, but should Romero’s moments of dominance weighed more heavily with the judges?

What was the official result?

Robert Whittaker def. Yoel Romero via split decision.

How did the fight go?

The tension in this one was palpable, especially considering how entertaining and closely fought their first meeting was at UFC 213. It didn’t even matter that Romero missed weight. This felt like a prize fight is supposed to feel.

Through the first two rounds, the champion was on point. Lots of movement, smart use of feints, and an early focus on Romero’s legs. There wasn’t much activity from Romero in round one, but you got the sense that he wasn’t interested in winning on the scorecards anyway. Every time he even hinted at a offensive outburst, the crowd reacted.

Romero came out more aggressive in round two, but he also respected Whittaker’s power. Whittaker constantly touched Romero up, doing everything he could to not allow Romero to get into any sort of rhythm. A hard jab by Whittaker caused Romero’s right eye to swell up. It looked like Whittaker was up after 10 minutes.

Then, round three happened. Thunderstruck. Romero started landing and 30 seconds in he staggered Whittaker with a sharp right to the jaw. Whittaker’s glove touched the mat. Romero was a little wild and couldn’t quite find the finishing follow-up shot, though that’s a credit to Whittaker’s survival skills as well. The two fighters were tangled up and Whittaker always scrambled into just the right spot to not get his head knocked off and fire back with shots of his own. For a moment, it looked like Romero was gassing, but he began another onslaught with two minutes remaining. Whittaker hung in there with him.

The fourth round started off closer in tone to the first two rounds. What was different is that we now knew how much damage Romero could do to Whittaker. With Whittaker rifling out left hands, the commentary team speculated that his right hand may have been broken (Whittaker confirmed this in his post-fight interview, saying he was numb from his hand to his elbow). The volume favored Whittaker, but again Romero surged in the last 90 seconds. He wobbled Whittaker with a left hand and followed with a solid right. Possibly too little too late.

Romero’s urgency kicked up another notch in round five and 90 seconds in he dropped Whittaker with a huge left hand. From back mount, Romero scored with plenty of punches as Whittaker hung onto a leg for dear life. They ended up grappling against the fence and Romero kept going for a trip so that he could initiate more ground-and-pound. Whittaker’s defense held up, but he was strictly on defense in the final round. That was enough to prevent Romero from finding the finish.

On a less analytical note, holy crap this fight was insanely good

What did the judges say?

Sal D’Amato scored it 48-47 Romero.

Chris Lee scored it 48-47 Whittaker.

Brian Pucillo scored it 48-47 Whittaker.

The first three rounds and the last were easy to score, with all three judges giving one and two to Whittaker and three and five to Romero. Round four proved to be the difference as Lee and Pucillo both scored it for the champion.

No 10-8s were awarded.

What did the numbers say?

(Statistics per UFC Stats)

For the most part, the numbers reflect the majority opinion of the fight. Whittaker won rounds one, two, and four, while Romero handily took rounds three and five.

Just counting significant strikes, Whittaker actually had the most dominant round of the fight, outscoring Romero 33-9 in round one. He won round two 29-20 and round four 34-20. However, even given the margins by which he won by, you’d be hard pressed to argue that Whittaker deserved anything more than 10-9s for his efforts.

Romero’s round victories were equally impressive (36-18 in round three and 26-14 in round five) plus he had a knockdown in each of the two rounds that he won.

Going by area, Romero landed an absurd 76 head strikes (33 in round three!) to Whittaker’s 57, while Whittaker edged out the body strike battle 23-19 and overwhelmingly won the leg strike battle 48-16.

Romero scored three takedowns, two in round three and one in round five. He was credited with six ground strikes in round three and 14 in round five.

What did the media say?

Of the 28 outlets tallied by MMA Decisions, five scored the fight for Whittaker, 15 scored it for Romero, and eight saw the fight as a 47-47 draw (meaning Romero earned one 10-8 on those cards).

Five of the media members who scored the fight for Romero gave him a pair of 10-8s for a 48-46 score in his favor.

What did the people say?

(Data derived from MMA Decisions and Verdict MMA)

In a rarity on MMA decisions, the leading vote getter was a 47-47 draw verdict at 37.4 percent. In second at 26.9 percent, 48-47 Whittaker. However, the next three scores are all some form of “Romero defeated Whittaker” for a total of 27.5 percent.

If you’re of the mind that Whittaker did not deserve to win the rematch, that’s almost 65 percent in agreement.

Verdict MMA users gave the slightest of edges to the champion.

That scoring system takes the cumulative total of every submitted fan score (filtering out aberrant scores like random 10-7s if they comprise less than one percent of the total) in every round and divides by the amount of submitted scores to determine the winner of each round and also in totality.

The submitted Verdict MMA scores were fairly conservative, with the fifth round just barely being more than a 10-9 in Romero’s favor (he won the round by 109 points). Whittaker’s first and Romero’s third essentially canceled each other out, so Whittaker’s second and fourth made up the difference and he won the final score by 17 points. That narrow margin adds to the robbery argument.

MMA Fighting did not conduct a Twitter poll at the time, but you can read some reactions to the judges’ decision in the following reply thread:

How did I score it?

At worst for Whittaker, a draw.

I simply cannot see a strong justification for two 10-8s. The fifth round, no question, Romero came close to finishing the fight. Not only did he drop Whittaker, he followed up with several accurate strikes on the ground and it took Whittaker time to clear the cobwebs and tie Romero up. Fights have been stopped for less, is what I’m saying.

That said, Romero left the door open for a 10-9 by going for trips for the rest of the round that didn’t lead to more significant offense. Whittaker did zip in round five, but Romero’s attack slowed considerably after that fateful flurry. One has to wonder if that knockdown come later in the round, would that have influenced how heavily the judges weighed it?

The third round was a 10-9 for me upon re-watching the fight, though I’m definitely thinking twice after seeing that it was statistically Romero’s best round of the evening.

Without the benefit of analyzing the numbers, I had it 47-47.

Was it a robbery?

There was a lot of the “Joe Rogan effect” here as afterwards he just blindly stated to Romero that “a lot of people thought that you were going to get the decision” (in actuality, the crowd reacted mostly positively when the decision was read out). Romero told Rogan that he thought he won the belt and that he wasn’t given the proper amount of time to cut weight, so he certainly felt some type of way about it all.

Last week, I argued that Max Holloway’s winning rounds felt more meaningful than Alexander Volkanovski’s and you can make a much stronger case here that Romero deserved at least one actual 10-8. As impressive as Whittaker’s heart was and as much as he was able to answer back with strikes of his own throughout the fight, from round three onward it felt like Romero’s fight to lose; which unfortunately for him, according to two of the three judges, he did.

That’s not fair, nor is it fair to say that Whittaker should take the loss instead. Maybe he didn’t do enough to win, but he certainly did more than enough to hold onto his belt, and thus...

The final verdict

Not a robbery.


Was Robert Whittaker’s win over Yoel Romero a robbery?

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