The rematch between Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero for the middleweight title at UFC 225 is expected to be one of the most competitive contests of 2018.
Last year when Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero collided for the interim middleweight title, the division was in flux. Both men were regarded as the top middleweights in the world but were awaiting the return of undisputed champion Michael Bisping. When Whittaker injured his knee, the division moved forward with the unusual circumstance of Georges St. Pierre winning and immediately vacating the belt. When the two meet again at UFC 225, however, they will enter the cage with no caveats or asterisks attached to their victory.
“The Reaper” Robert Whittaker, at just 27-years-old, was on the cusp of a sweep of the division earlier this year. His 2016 put him in the running for Fighter of the Year, stopping top contender Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and later overcoming Yoel Romero in a five-round contest. His scheduled matchup with Luke Rockhold in his home country of Australia was expected to be both his hero’s welcome and possible ascension to the top of the pound-for-pound list. Instead, a bout with chicken pox took him out of the running and Rockhold would instead come up short against late replacement Yoel Romero.
While a second fight with Romero does not carry the appeal of completing a sweep of the Big Three in the division, it does not change that he would secure his place as arguably the best middleweight since Anderson Silva. He currently rides an eight-fight win streak with wins over Uriah Hall, Derek Brunson, Jacare, and Romero. A second victory over “The Soldier of God” would be an unprecedented run, especially considering that the only other big name in the division in Luke Rockhold has left the weight class.
For Yoel Romero, he has suffered the most from the circumstances of the division in the past two years. He earned a title shot in 2015 when he edged Jacare by decision, only to be suspended after being flagged by USADA. Romero proved that the substance was unknowingly taken, but it did not change that he was out of the running for the championship fight with Rockhold when Chris Weidman fell out of the contest. Michael Bisping would win the belt, and Romero would seemingly earn another shot at the belt when he returned in 2017 to knock-out Weidman at Madison Square Garden. Instead, an injury to Michael Bisping led to the interim title fight with Whittaker in which Romero was lost by decision.
Romero returned to action this past March, where with under a month’s notice he knocked out Rockhold in the third round. His victory was marred by the fact that he did not make weight for the contest and thus was not awarded the interim title. But while Whittaker has the advantage of besting him once before, a victory for Romero would go a long way in establishing his own legend. Romero’s UFC tenure has seen him record victories over Rockhold, Chris Weidman, Derek Brunson, Jacare, and Brad Tavares. A win over Whittaker will likely set up a trilogy down the line, but at 40-years-old would still complete what has been a tumultuous journey to the top of the mixed martial arts world for Romero.
If the first fight is any indication, the bout figures to be one of the closest contests waged in 2018. Preparing for Romero is often deceptive, as common sense would say it is best to be patient and get him to the later rounds where he is slowed down. That said, Romero has scored six of his UFC finishes in the third round and was also winning the fifth round with Whittaker before the New Zealand native scored a late takedown. For “The Soldier of God,” the key will be to put pressure on Whittaker and not allow him to fight on the outside where the champion’s speed, reach, and footwork figure to give him the advantage. With forward pressure, Romero figures to wear down Whittaker and give him opportunities to connect with explosive power shots.
For Whittaker, the key will be to wear down Romero with shots on the outside and avoid the takedown. Romero took the first two rounds in the first fight with his physicality and Whittaker should be prepared for a similar attack in the rematch. While Romero is dangerous in any minute of the fight, his shots will become more labored the longer the fight goes. That is where Whittaker should look to open up and where he likely has his best chance to score a finish.
The winner will likely have their next defense against Kelvin Gastelum, but the division has been thoroughly swept between the two of them. A victory for Romero would give Whittaker a possible opportunity for a trilogy. Whereas if Whittaker were to be victorious, the division could be wide open for another contender to break through unexpectedly into the title picture.
The match-up is appropriate to take place in “The Windy City” as it is expected that there are all the ingredients for a perfect storm between Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero in Chicago in the main event of UFC 225.