Middleweight Robert Whittaker makes his first defence of his title against Cuban uber-athlete Yoel Romero at UFC 225 in Chicago on Saturday night, in a re-run of their first extremely competitive bout which saw Kiwi Whittaker win the belt almost a year ago.
Whittaker was to some extent expected to wilt under the pressure of Romero’s legendary wrestling acumen; instead, he resisted almost every attempt by Romero to get him to the ground, and began to out-strike him as Romero’s notoriously shallow gas-tank emptied and this wasn’t help by almost crippled his left knee twenty seconds into the fight.
There will be some very interesting questions to be answered here – firstly, how much more diverse and powerful might Whittaker be with full use of both legs?
Perhaps most importantly, will Romero be able to pace himself enough to last five rounds; in the first fight he barely made it to the end of the twenty five minutes.
Romero is still dynamic, intelligent and explosive enough to pose a real risk to the middleweight champion, setting up a truly mouth-watering rematch.
In truth, the whole card represents a ramping up of the UFCs efforts to bring a top-quality card together; most of the fights here present some intrigue.
The co-main features Brazilian, and former lightweight champion, Rafael Dos Anjos making a convincing case for a title shot at welterweight, against American Colby Covington.
Covington has made an enemy out of an entire country for his derogatory remarks towards Brazil and its inhabitants. This has made Dos Anjos bears the responsibility of providing an outlet for the rage of a rabidly patriotic fan base, as he aims to shut the mouth of the obnoxious UFC heel.
Dos Anjos is far superior on the feet, having shown vast improvements in his boxing in his last fight. Covington, despite his claims, remains a resolutely one-track fighter. If this stays standing, he will have a huge problem, but if it turns into a wrestling match, Covington will hold a huge advantage.
This excellent UFC event opens with its most controversial fight; former WWE wrestler CM Punk. In his second ever MMA fight he faces fellow novice Mike Jackson in a show-down that unveils the latent penchant for the UFC to descend into the occasional circus show.
The UFCs motivations are clear, Punk is likely to draw more casual eyes to the event and this fight represents a more appropriate level of opposition for him. However, it still leaves a strange taste to have it as the opening bout.
The dark lining to the silver cloud that is UFC 225, is the direction the promotion is taking. Having such a densely stacked card has drawn the depth from the fight cards that surround it like a tsunami drawing water off a beach.
The upside to this is the night does promise a deluge of quality pugilism for a whole evening. Hard to sustain perhaps, but well worth the time to witness while it lasts.
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