UFC 225 was not without its share of news.
There was the weekly weight-cutting drama that turned the main event into a non-title match.
There was the spectacle of two men who really had no business on a pay-per-view from a fighting standpoint opening the card, particularly since there was a battle of top contenders, flyweights Sergio Pettis vs. Joseph Benavidez, on Fight Pass.
There was the attempt to create a legitimate women’s featherweight contender that failed once again.
There was the possible retirement of one of the key first generation television stars.
Robert Whittaker, the UFC’s middleweight champion, escaped by the skin of his teeth in a match that could have created a complete mess of that title picture. Yoel Romero missing weight by 0.2 pounds, after being given two more hours to cut following missing by a pound, created the problem.
Romero was coming off missing weight in his previous fight with Luke Rockhold, which denied him the interim title he was originally fighting for on that show. But in missing weight, he knocked out Rockhold and was awarded with a title fight.
So while the championship wasn’t at stake, the credibility of the championship in the fans’ eyes was. Had Romero won, and many think he did, Whittaker would have been in that Daniel Cormier-like purgatory of being champion while the fans believed somebody else was the rightful champion.
Worse, it would have created a situation where UFC would have likely, to remove the controversy, have to book Whittaker to defend against Romero again. So Romero would have missed weight twice in a row and then gotten another title shot.
The judges awarded Whittaker a split decision in a fight that came down to judging round four. Virtually everyone was in agreement that Whittaker won the first two rounds, and that Romero won three and five. He also won three and five stronger than Whittaker won one and two. Announcer Joe Rogan kept railing on the judges for not giving round five a 10-8 score, but watching, I’m pretty liberal on 10-8s and it never even occurred to me. Round three, one of the most exciting rounds of the year, had more of a case for 10-8 but Whittaker had enough offense to arguably mitigate that Romero had him in a lot of trouble at points in the round.
Still, media scores at MMA Decisions were 54 percent for Romero, only 22 percent for Whittaker and 35 percent even, meaning people likely giving Whittaker the swing round four, but giving Romero a 10-8 in either rounds three or five.
Dozens of pro wrestlers over the years have gone into MMA, including some who became legitimate stars like Brock Lesnar, Kazuyuki Fujita, Kazushi Sakuraba, Naoya Ogawa, Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn. Jack Swagger, with Bellator, will be the next name pro wrestler to try.
But there is a big difference between all of those names and CM Punk. All of the above had a solid wrestling or judo background.
Punk was very much living a Walter Mitty fantasy. He started training as a fighter in his late 30s. His body was thrashed by years of pro wrestling. But he never even wrestled in high school or competed in martial arts. That said, UFC is a business and it is a business that needs people who the public wants to see fight.
Punk’s debut drew a lot of extra pay-per-view buys as a novelty. There was the question of signing a guy who, from all accounts, loved the sport, loved to train, and wasn’t afraid to work hard, and had a history of selling some tickets and a lot of T-shirts in another world.
But that question was answered in his first time out. Logic applied. He was too old to start with no background in any legitimate fighting sport.
Would people go out of their way to see him a second time? That was the unanswered question. He was given an opponent who was not of UFC caliber. Still, Mike Jackson had boxed some, and while he only had fought once as a pro, and lost, and once as an amateur under MMA rules, his first fight was in 2009, meaning he had years of real fight training.
It was sad just how ineffective Punk looked when given essentially a hand-picked opponent. As far as what did he mean for the show, it’s too early to tell pay-per-view numbers but Whittaker and Romero had no drawing history. As far as Internet searches after the show, Punk’s 200,000 clearly outdistanced the 50,000 for Colby Covington and Holly Holm, and the two main eventers didn’t even have that many.
But even if he did draw on pay-per-view, he can’t be brought back after that performance. Dana White as much as said so when the show was over.
Megan Anderson, a very legitimate featherweight as far as size went, finally made her UFC debut. While she physically showed a clear size difference over usual bantamweight Holly Holm, after an early flurry Anderson was taken down and controlled for three one-sided rounds. Her defeat once again left Cris Cyborg, the champion in that division, without any opponents within her weight class.
For Rashad Evans, at the age of 38 and with 14-plus years in the sport, the former light heavyweight champion and multiple pay-per-view headliner suffered his fifth straight loss. This one coming in just 53 seconds. While he didn’t outright say he was retiring after the fight, White said he was. In a sport desperate for names, Evans is enough of one that he could continue to fight if he wanted to. But the humane thing is to hope he doesn’t.
Let’s look at how fortunes changed for five stars from Saturday’s show in Chicago.
ROBERT WHITTAKER — Whittaker (21-4), fighting with a broken right hand, survived more than won against Romero (13-3).
Had Romero made weight, the decision was close enough that one could strongly make a case for a rematch. And realistically, Romero looks to be the strongest contender in the division.
But Whittaker now has two wins over him and he needs to prove that he can make weight at least once before the rematch is even considered.
The two leading contenders at this point would be Chris Weidman (14-3) and Kelvin Gastelum (15-3). Weidman has been battling injuries and White said that Gastelum has an out-of-the-cage issue that he wouldn’t elaborate on that he has to deal with first. With Whittaker being injured, both have time to get ready for a fight that would be probably around the end of the year. Weidman’s having beaten Gastelum when they fought and being a former champion should get him the nod.
YOEL ROMERO — At 41, no matter how he looks physically and how explosive he still is, time is still not Romero’s ally. He should be booked next with Ronaldo Souza (25-6). The two fought once before, in 2015. It was a close-enough decision, that went Romero’s way, that there was significant debate when it was over. The key is that Romero shouldn’t be booked next with Whittaker, Weidman or Gastelum until he can first prove he can make weight.
COLBY COVINGTON — Covington (14-1) has now earned his welterweight title shot with his decision win over Rafael dos Anjos (28-10). In taking the interim title, he should face champion Tyron Woodley (18-3-1). It’s a battle of All-American college wrestlers who were at one point training partners.
Covington has become one of the more controversial characters in the sport with his attempts to become Chael Sonnen, in the sense he’s constantly trying to get attention. But he’s totally lacking in Sonnen’s tongue-in-cheek charm. Still, as much as he rubs people the wrong way, he decisively defeated dos Anjos and showed an absolutely incredible gas tank in doing so.
Covington was one of the most talked about fighters on the show. And unlike Punk, whose fame came from pro wrestling, and Holm, whose fame came from beating Ronda Rousey, Covington didn’t come into this show with a large level of mainstream star power.
HOLLY HOLM — Holm (12-4) issued a challenge to bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes (16-4) after taking down and controlling Anderson to an easy decision win.
There are a couple of directions you could go. With Cyborg once again without a challenger — and she’s the biggest draw of all the women champions — it’s time to do Cyborg vs. Nunes in a battle of titleholders. The fight inherently isn’t fair because Cyborg is so much larger, but Nunes is the one fighter in the sport who would at least have a shot at giving Cyborg real competition.
If that is the situation, then Holm should face Ketlen Vieira (10-0) for the shot at Nunes next. If not, Holm or Vieira would be the logical picks to face Nunes next. Vieira is unbeaten and is more deserving of the shot. But Holm is the bigger name and Holm vs. Nunes is the bigger drawing fight. If the direction is Vieira, then Holm should next face the winner of the July 14 fight with Cat Zingano (9-3) vs. Marion Reneau (9-3-1).
TAI TUIVASA — One of the show’s most intriguing fights was Tuivasa, coming in at 9-0 with nine first-round knockouts, against Andrei Arlovski, the aging former heavyweight champion. Tuivasa took the first two rounds, but his power couldn’t take out Arlovski, whose chin in the past has been suspect. It was a message that in the upper ranks, Tuivasa’s knockout power alone isn’t going to get the job done automatically and he needs to up his skill level.
Still, it was a win over a name fighter. And it is a relatively weak division. Tuivasa’s next opponent could be the winner of the July 7 fight with Francis Ngannou (11-2) against Derrick Lewis (19-5).