It was a curious idea put forth with vigor by the UFC’s commentary booth.
Robert Whittaker had just defeated Yoel Romero for the second time in 11 months, taking a split decision in the main event of UFC 225 at Chicago’s United Center.
Both fights, including their original bout at UFC 213 which Whittaker took by unanimous decision, were Fight of the Year contenders. Both were close fights. And both were won by Whittaker, who cemented his position as UFC middleweight champion.
But color commentator Joe Rogan and Co. strangely decided to push a trilogy fight after the same fighter won both bouts. And Whittaker, with all due respect to Romero, is ready to move on with his life.
“When Joe Rogan asked me in the Octagon the other night, he said ‘rubber match,’ for one, I had never heard the term rubber match so he caught me off guard,” Whittaker said on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “On second, I just beat the boogeyman of the division twice, back-to-back. I don’t see how the division or the UFC can could get the champion to fight one guy who, on both occasions doesn’t make weight for a championship fight back to back to back. I’m not fighting Yoel Romero forever.”
You can’t get too down on Rogan and his teammates for wanting to see a third version of Whittaker-Romero, though, because they were reacting from exuberance after seeing a tremendous fight. The third round was one of the most exciting you’ll ever see, and the fifth round, in which Romero came on strong, left a big final impression.
“It’s definitely cringey to watch, I don’t like watching myself get dropped,” Whittaker said. “It is what it is. He hit me, he put me on my ass a coupe times. I never felt once I was going away from the fight. In the third, I get back to my feet and I start laying on the offense once again.”
But Whittaker firmly believes he won the first, second, and fourth rounds. And while he concedes Romero had a strong final round, he says he was never close to being finished.
“I can remember vividly thinking ‘it doesn’t look good,’ thinking from people looking on the outside, but in no way was I ever going to go away from that fight,” Whittaker said. “It shocked me, put me down for a second, but I was working my way back up, I got my legs under me, and went straight on the offense after that.
“Probably the fifth round was the harder round of the two,” Whittaker continued. “But the third round, I went down, but I got back up and I started actually going on the offense again. I started throwing good elbows and good kicks again. I think in the third round I started to come back around again. The fifth round was a lot harder, it was different. It was at the end of the fight, he got another good shot.”
There’s another reason why the Aussie respectfully feels Romero needs to get back in line: He’s been gotten two title fights this year, including his UFC 221 interim title match with Luke Rockhold, and missed weight both times.
Whittaker, though, wasn’t going to pull a diva act when Romero came up two-tenths of a pound overweight on his second weigh-in attempt on Friday. Whittaker traveled halfway around the world to fight and knew his name was on the marquee. He was going to do his part to deliver the fans live and on pay-per-view the fight they paid to see, no matter what happened with Romero.
“I am a professional, on all things I do,” Whittaker said. “When I sign the contract and it says 185, I’m going to make sure I’m 185 on the date. I make sure I am one of the first people on the scales. The thing is, I didn’t need to take the fight. I could have walked away with my purse money and not taken the fight. I had a right to do that. The thing was, I had a lot of fans here in Chicago who were super-pumped to see the fight. A lot of people were buying the pay-per-views and a lot of people wanted to see the rematch with me and Yoel, at the end of the day, I am a fighter, so I thought I’m going to take the fight.”
The fight did indeed proceed after a long period of uncertainly on Friday. And after throwing down with Romero for another 25 minutes once again, he walks away from the fights with the type of respect only two fighters who engage in a classic fight can ever fully understand.
“There were reports saying that Rockhold said when he fought him he felt like he was kicking and punching concrete,” Whittaker said. “I can 100 percent verify that. This time around when I was fighting and throwing the punches and kicks, I was kicking him clean and my foot was coming back sore. It looked like I was more hurting myself hitting him than getting hit. He’s a tough guy, he’s a very tough guy.”