After months of fight cards that were average at best and awful at worst, the first big UFC card of 2018 is on Saturday, June 9. The card is filled top to bottom with what look to be entertaining cards , including a main event rematch that could be on the short list for “Fight of the Year.”
UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker faced Yoel Romero last year for the then-interim middleweight title. Romero looked to be in firm control over the first two rounds and even damaged Whittaker’s leg. However, Whittaker rallied for what many considered a huge upset and began his path to becoming the undisputed middleweight champion.
Strengths: Whittaker is quickly becoming one of the most feared strikers in the UFC. He has won four out of his last seven fights via knockout, with a pair of first-round knockouts. He knocked two of the most dangerous fighters in the middleweight division in Derek Brunson and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and went toe-to-toe with Romero in the first meeting, despite Romero’s knockout power.
Whittaker lands nearly five significant strikes per minute and stuffs almost 87 percent of the takedowns attempted against him. Chances are good that when you step into the cage with Whittaker, you’re going to have to just deal with the fight being spent on the feet. If you’re lucky enough to get him to the mat, then make sure you keep him there. Whittaker has steadily improved since moving up to middleweight, and before his rash of injuries following his win over Romero last year, he looked to be hitting his peak as a fighter.
Weaknesses: Although Whittaker hasn’t lost in four years, he still has holes in his game that Romero could exploit. Whittaker has yet to win a fight by submission in the UFC, and he averages less than half a full takedown attempt per fight. Romero is an Olympic wrestler from Cuba and attempted multiple takedowns against Whittaker in their first fight. If Romero is successful in getting Whittaker to the mat, his superiority in that area could give him a distinct advantage.
Also, even though Whittaker is a dangerous striker, Romero is an equally dangerous one. Whittaker is known to throw caution to the wind and just stand and trade strikes – just watch his fight against Derek Brunson. Whittaker was almost knocked out himself in that fight before he caught Brunson and finished him. We saw what Romero did to fighters like Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman. If Romero catches Whittaker with a shot like that, Whittaker may not be conscious enough to return fire.
Strengths: As I just finished explaining, Romero is one of the more well-rounded fighters in all of the UFC. He is deadly on his feet, and incredibly experienced on the ground. Romero is undefeated in the UFC and hasn’t lost a fight period since 2011. Of his eight wins in the UFC, six have come by knockout. Although many people discuss Romero’s wrestling pedigree, he has yet to have a need for it. Why would you, when you appear as effective with your striking as Romero does?
However, it must be nice for Romero to know that if he needs it, his wrestling is in his back pocket. Romero also lands more significant strikes per minute and defends them better than Whittaker. Even though Romero is 41 years old, he still looks surprisingly in his prime and shows no signs of slowing down.
Weaknesses: Luckily, for analysis purposes, we have some recent film that shows how well Romero would do against Whittaker. During their first meeting last year, Romero clearly won the first two rounds and even managed to injure Whittaker’s leg. But Whittaker’s miraculous comeback was aided by mostly his pace, which eventually tired Romero out as he was peppered with strikes. Romero went for takedowns early and often against Whittaker, so it’s fair to assume that Romero was running on empty in the later rounds.
Which might be Whittaker’s biggest advantage. Even though Romero is in impeccable shape for a 41-year-old and has finished six of his last eight opponents, does he truly have the gas tank to be an effective fighter for an entire 25 minutes?
The first fight between Whittaker and Romero was probably the most underrated fight of 2017. The fact Whittaker was able to come back and defeat Romero while on one leg is nothing short of extraordinary. Both guys gave each other their best shot over five rounds, and I don’t expect the rematch to be any different.
I also don’t expect the result to be any different. Romero catching Whittaker with a huge shot like he did to Rockhold and Weidman would not shock me. But Whittaker’s fight IQ seems to improve with each fight. He went from a wild brawler against Brunson to a surgical striker against Souza to a smart striker against Romero. This will be close, and both guys will get their licks in. I just think Whittaker gets more.
Winner: Whittaker by unanimous decision
Photo Credit: MMA Junkie