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Hindsight – UFC 225: Whittaker vs. Romero 2 in retrospect

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UFC 225 was the most anticipated card of 2018… at least up to this point. Though there were a few lulls in the card, it’s safe to say it lived up to the expectations in the end. It may have been largely because of the main event between Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero – the leader for Fight of the Year for 2018 – but who really gives a damn. That fight was that damn good. There were several other fights worth mentioning – including Colby Covington winning a fake belt and declaring it a real belt – and we’ll get to the nitty gritty of everything. Tuck in and get ready… this could take a while.

Here’s a breakdown of every contest on UFC 225. I’ll cover the important parts of the fight, some of the techniques I noticed that were either effective or ineffective, and where the fighters appear to be going.

Dan Ige defeated Mike Santiago via TKO at 0:50 of RD1

Ige didn’t even give Santiago a chance to exercise any potential advantages he might have. Ige blitzed Santiago out of the gate, quickly took the back when Santiago hit the mat, and pounded out the regional vet after locking in a body triangle. There was nothing competitive about this contest.

While I will admit Ige looked fantastic, it should be taken with a grain of salt. Santiago has progressively looked worse from his appearance on the Contender’s Series. As many fights as he had on his record, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Santiago hit the end of the line of his competitive peak. It’s a shame as Santiago’s 11-fight win streak to get to the UFC was impressive. He’s probably done in the organization.

Ige’s strikes – on the ground and standing – were extremely accurate. The opening punch to floor Santiago may have had some luck to it, but his ability to avoid the back of Santiago’s head was impressive. I still have major doubts about how high Ige’s ceiling might be, but those concerns will be quieted if he can follow up with a similar performance.

Charles Oliveira defeated Clay Guida via submission at 2:18 of RD1

There is no surprise at the final result of this contest. Guida had been submitted four times previously to chokes in the UFC prior to this contest. That Oliveira was able to set up Guida’s shot that led to the guillotine by pelting him with some stiff punches is the note that needs to be remembered from this contest. Even before the combo that inspired Guida’s shot, Oliveira’s jab was precise and accurate, opening up a cut above Guida’s eye. Even though he’s been in the UFC for a minute, Oliveira is still improving.

Can someone please let Oliveira know he’s best off making his bones at lightweight? He’s been able to avoid issues with the weigh-ins when he cuts to 155 and looks to be in fantastic shape. It isn’t like he’s being outmuscled. However, even with the improvements in his striking, it appears Oliveira’s ceiling will forever be limited to his toughness. I enjoy watching the guy and would love it if he could get past his mental block, but it’s hard to see that happening at this point.

Guida’s somewhat improbable two-fight win streak was snapped emphatically. I didn’t like his chances when Oliveira stepped in for Bobby Green as Guida is notorious for getting his neck caught in bad situations and Oliveira’s reputation is that of a submission artist. I don’t want to say one plus one equals two – I’m remembering when Alistair Overeem used that analogy – but it seemed it was the most logical conclusion. Guida is capable of wins against competitors on a similar level as Oliveira, it just needs to be stylistically favorable.

Sergio Pettis defeated Joseph Benavidez via split decision

The UFC moved on from Benavidez as a potential title contender a while ago after his two losses to Demetrious Johnson. Why else would they skip over him in favor of Henry Cejudo for a shot at Johnson’s belt when Benavidez owned not just a six-fight win streak, but a win over Cejudo? On the other hand, they’ve been grooming Pettis to get a shot at the belt sooner rather than later. In other words, this contest played out exactly how the UFC hoped it would: Pettis walking out with a victory.

It’s a shame the UFC was content to let Benavidez age out of contention, further proof it’s more spectacle than sport. Sure, most fans are tired of seeing the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors do the damn thing year after year, but they’ve earned it through their accomplishments. Even worse, if the UFC doesn’t deem Johnson to be marketable, does it really matter if he faced Benavidez for a third time or a fresh challenge whom casual fans aren’t familiar with? I digress.

What sucks even more for Benavidez is a strong case could have been made for his victory despite a clear drop in his performance. His strikes weren’t as crisp as they have been in the past and there wasn’t enough burst in his takedown attempts for him to complete them. What was in his favor was his pushing the pace and throwing a greater amount of volume. What made the difference for Pettis was his improved takedown defense and sharper striking, hurting Benavidez briefly in the opening frame. Pettis is still a way away from his prime, but his continued improvement is impressive. Though he believes he deserves a chance at the belt, he’d be better served getting at least one more fight in, preferably against a high-level opponent. Benavidez will continue to serve as a gatekeeper, his fate now sealed that he’ll never get another crack at the flyweight belt.

Anthony Smith defeated Rashad Evans via KO at 0:53 of RD1

Despite an illustrious career that included a short run as the light heavyweight champion, very few were picking Evans to emerge as the victor in this one. He has appeared sluggish and fragile since returning from his torn ACL. His hopes were that a return to 205 would do him some good. Nope. While attempting to get in on a takedown, Evans ate a knee from the lanky Smith, immediately crashing to the canvas to give Smith a big name on his resume.

Though the win is exciting for Smith, the bigger story is Evans’ massive decline. His last victory came in November 2013 over Chael Sonnen. His explosiveness that was once his trademark has completely disappeared and he’s reluctant to engage on the feet. Plus, his chin has apparently deteriorated into nothing. Add everything up and the hope is that Evans will call it a career. He was a bona fide star at one point, drawing over a million PPV buys for his non-title contest with Rampage Jackson at UFC 114. There is nothing left for him to accomplish. Here’s hoping he considers his long-term health.

Smith didn’t have the opportunity to answer any questions about how the move up to light heavyweight will affect his stamina, long a concern of his. Even though he KO’d Evans, it doesn’t necessarily answer a lot of questions about how his power will translate as Evans chin… well, we’ve already discussed that. Regardless, Smith probably made the right move as his frame was massive for middleweight and those weight cuts get harder as one gets older. Besides, the lack of depth at 205 makes the probability of a run higher for him.

Chris de la Rocha defeated Rashad Coulter via TKO at 3:53 of RD2

These two heavyweights threw own in the manner everyone hoped they would in the first round, throwing all technique and defense out the window while lobbing haymaker after haymaker at one another, putting together one of the most entertaining rounds of the year. However, both expended their gas tanks, putting together one of the worst rounds associated with a high-level MMA organization for the year in the second. De la Rocha’s girth proved to be the difference, getting Coulter down before pounding out the heavy hitter.

Given Coulter delivered on what was expected out of him – a fun slugfest – he should end up remaining on the roster, despite his 0-3 record in the UFC. His other two contests have been worth watching as well, so expect the UFC to give him one last opportunity ala Darren Stewart. Whether the big man is expected to make good on his last opportunity is dependent upon his matchup, but it’s more than likely that it’ll be worth watching.

De la Rocha is already 39 and doesn’t appear to be placing too heavy of an emphasis on making a run up the heavyweight ladder as this was just his third UFC fight in three years. If he continues to fight like this, I’ll be happy to see him fight with more regularity as his chin held up remarkably well against Coulter. However, he’s never going to be more than an action fighter.

Mirsad Bektic defeated Ricardo Lamas via split decision

Bektic was a heavy favorite here after Lamas looked to bounce back from a violent KO at the hands of Josh Emmett as those types of KO’s can be difficult to recover from. Lamas didn’t show any ill-effects from that loss, pressing the action and taking plenty of risks in hopes of catching the young up-and-comer in a submission. It proved futile as Bektic was able to stuff takedowns, escape from submissions, and produce just enough offense over the first two rounds to sway the judges in his favor.

It may not have been the type of win many would have expected out of the uber-talented Bektic, but it was a good win nonetheless. Lamas has long been one of the most opportunistic fighters on the roster, not just the division. Bektic displayed incredible defensive skills in the process, something that we haven’t seen too much of as he’s regularly been the aggressor in his contests. However, his final round was purely defensive as Bektic appeared to be tired, similar to his loss to Darren Elkins. That’s something he’ll need to remedy if he hopes to challenge the likes of Max Holloway and Brian Ortega.

Lamas, like the rest of the old guard at featherweight that appears to be transitioning out, has been at the top of the featherweight rankings for a long time. It’s not surprising he’s slipping out at the age of 36. Like Jose Aldo, Cub Swanson, and Frankie Edgar, Lamas is still a tough out. He just doesn’t appear capable of being the best anymore. His opportunistic nature will allow him to steal a win or two he won’t be expected to take, making him ideal against potentially reckless youngsters making their way up. Even if he isn’t what he once was, a Lamas fight is still one to look forward to.

Claudia Gadelha defeated Carla Esparza via split decision

Though it wasn’t as meaningful as it would have been when these two were originally scheduled to fight in the Invicta days, there was still some high stakes as the loser would be eliminated from the title picture, probably for a few years. Esparza had already clawed her way back this far after losing the belt to Joanna Jedrzejczyk three years ago, but Gadelha was on the losing end of one of the most vicious beatdowns of 2017 at the hands of Jessica Andrade. It went back and forth, both stumbling the other in the first round, Gadelha controlling with grappling in the second before fading in the third. It was anyone’s guess who would take the decision, though the crowd voiced their displeasure when Gadelha was announced the winner.

Even though Esparza lost the decision, it felt like she walked out of the arena as the better fighter. She performed better than expected and won over the crowd. Given she is known as a wrestler first and foremost, her ability to stand in the pocket win the standup battle with Gadelha over the course of the fight was unexpected and impressive. While it appears unlikely Esparza can work her way back into the title picture, she has at the very least reestablished herself as a top notch gatekeeper, perhaps more. It’s worth noting her only losses since dropping the belt were controversial decisions.

Gadelha appeared to have her stamina issues over a three-round contest solved when she went for the title against Jedrzejczyk. Even the though the third round was when she started fading in that contest, she had pushed a ridiculous pace up to that point. Either she has regressed or I was wrong. I’m guessing the latter. It became a matter of survival for her as opposed to her putting a stamp on her performance. Gadelha is still one of the best strawweights in the world, but barely being able to eek by Esparza isn’t going to launch her into a potential fight with Rose Namajunas. Gadelha’s next fight will be pivotal to her chances at a future title shot.

Curtis Blaydes defeated Alistair Overeem via TKO at 2:56 of RD3

Overeem suffered one of the most brutal KO’s in the history of MMA in his last contest at the hands of Francis Ngannou. Though he had come back from KO losses before, this last one was bad enough that when combined with Overeem’s age and longevity in the sport left many wondering if his day in the sun had come to an end. Overeem proved reluctant to engage with Blaydes, staying on the outside as much as possible. Blaydes got the Dutchman to the ground in every round, ending the contest about midway through the third with some devastating elbows in the guard.

Though Overeem had his typical cocky grin when he came to the cage, there was nothing typical about his performance. Yes, Overeem is a patient fighter known for picking his spots. However, he’s never been reluctant to pull the trigger as he was against Blaydes. I get that he wanted to be prepared to stuff Blaydes’ takedown defense, but this was ridiculous. It’s plausible he’s been KO’d enough times that he no longer has the confidence to engage in a striking war as used to. It’s looking like Overeem’s reign near the top of the division has come to an end.

It’s official: Blaydes is one of the elite of the heavyweight division. Not that it was an unexpected development; it simply happened far quicker than many thought it would. He debuted in the UFC just over two years ago and it was less than a year ago he was struggling with the likes of Daniel Omielanczuk. For him to dominate Overeem so completely is no small task, even if Overeem isn’t the beast he once was. Blaydes asked for a title shot after Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier take care of business. While it isn’t out of the question, it doesn’t seem likely. Regardless, the athletic wrestler will get his shot at the belt someday soon.

Mike Jackson defeated CM Punk via unanimous decision

Everyone expected this to be a terrible fight. Unfortunately for all, it lived up to expectations. Punk showed a lot of heart in his wild attempts to put Jackson down for the count, but his inexperience was painfully obvious despite the years he’s put in working with Duke Roufus. Jackson did what he wanted whilst showboating when he had the opportunity, impressing no one in the process.

While Dana White’s criticism of Jackson may have been harsher than it needed to be, it wasn’t far off point. Jackson never looked to finish off the contest, contenting to push Punk against the fence and pot shot from Punk’s guard. Jackson was fooling himself if he believed he impressed enough to get another shot in the Octagon. As for Punk, his willingness to put himself out there is impressive, but no one wants to see him continue to fight in the UFC.

Tai Tuivasa defeated Andrei Arlovski via unanimous decision

Though Arlovski’s chin has long been a major question mark, his last two performances indicated he may be able to overturn the Tuivasa train… provided he could get the fight beyond the first round. Nobody knew how Tuivasa would respond if the fight extended beyond the first five minutes. Turns out Arlovski got the fight to go the distance, but it wasn’t enough for the former champion to outlast the personable Aussie.

Credit to Tuivasa proving he can win a decision against decent competition, something no one was sure he would be capable of doing. He briefly knocked Arlovski to the mat in the first, but it was more a case of catching Arlovski by surprise than nearly finishing him. He did experience a bit of a lull in the second, allowing Arlovski to stay on the outside and engage in an outside striking contest as opposed to Tuivasa closing the distance. Once Tuivasa caught a second wind in the final frame, he began looking for the finish. Even though he couldn’t get the finish, that the big man had the energy to fight effectively in the final frame – effective enough to win it – is encouraging enough to believe Tuivasa will be a title contender before the end of 2019. The youngster is making waves, not just with his goofy antics outside the cage.

Arlovski was competitive enough that he shouldn’t be going anywhere anytime soon. The division has been short on mid-level gatekeepers and Arlovski appears to have settled nicely into that role. So long as he isn’t engaging in a brawl, Arlovski is wily enough to outpoint a good chunk of the roster… separating the wheat from the chaff as a gatekeeper is supposed to do.

Holly Holm defeated Megan Anderson via unanimous decision

The expectation was that the winner would face Cris Cyborg for the featherweight title. Holm went on to beat Anderson in all aspects of the fight. Nailing her with kicks from the outside. Holding her against the fence. Even taking her down at will, showing a newly developed takedown game. Then when Joe Rogan interviews her after the contest and asks what next, she professes her desire to remain at bantamweight and regain that belt. So apparently, all this fight did was eliminate a potential fight for Cyborg. Well then….

I’m at a bit of a loss for what to think about Holm. She looked fantastic in this fight, better than she has since her definitive victory over Ronda Rousey. Developing a wrestling game potentially makes her dual threat, so she is continuing to improve. But what does beating Anderson do for her? Anderson is a talented 145er, the only other legit featherweight on the roster besides Cyborg. But she isn’t an elite fighter yet. Beating her should do anything for Holm at bantamweight, yet there’s all sorts of talk about her fighting Nunes next. Couldn’t we have her fighting Ketlen Vieira for a title shot? If nothing else, it would add some credence to Vieira’s name should the Brazilian win. However, Holm’s name recognition is what the UFC values and they will almost certainly stick her in a title fight at the first opportunity they get… just as they’ve done ever since her win over Rousey.

Anderson’s talent was on display early on when she put together a combination that put Holm on wobbly legs for a brief period. However, she was unable to capitalize, a display of her youth and inexperience against quality competition. The UFC needs to rehabilitate her at this point if she is to fight Cyborg sometime in the future. That will require signing some more featherweights very soon as there is no way in hell Anderson is going to get down to 135. Perhaps the UFC could sign someone like Pam Sorenson to provide Anderson with a challenge.

Colby Covington defeated Rafael dos Anjos via unanimous decision

Though Covington was the bigger fighter and more accomplished wrestler, most were still picking dos Anjos to get the job done. It isn’t like there wasn’t any reasoning behind that idea. Dos Anjos is a former lightweight champion with some of the better grappling credentials in the sport. However, I’ll admit I was amongst the large contingency that simply hoped dos Anjos would shut Covington up, analysis be damned. It didn’t happen. Covington’s constant pressure proved to be too much for the Brazilian, wearing down dos Anjos over the course of five rounds to take a semi-controversial decision.

Dos Anjos did land the cleaner strikes over the contest… at least that’s the common narrative, one I agree with. According to Fight Metric, dos Anjos also landed more significant strikes. However, Covington ate everything that dos Anjos threw at him without a major reaction. At no point did it appear Covington was hurt or rocked. So… are we sure dos Anjos won the striking battle? Regardless, it was a very close contest that provided a strong argument for both combatants to win, Covington’s takedowns making the difference.

Covington’s victory appears to work out better for the UFC than if dos Anjos had pulled it out. He’s playing the asshole in order to get attention and it has worked very well. For example, he drew Michael Bisping into a heated exchange after UFC 225. Even if Covington’s version of a heel lacks the charisma Chael Sonnen presented, it’s riling people up. Given the current political climate, his proclamation to place the belt on Donald Trump’s desk is a hell of a ploy. His striking has made steady progress to the point he was able to hang with dos Anjos. I’ll admit my desire to see him lose has likely clouded my judgement towards him and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Dos Anjos’ strategy appeared to be wearing down Covington, thus why he concentrated on the body. However, that may have cost him too as judges often don’t place as much value on body shots as they do on head shots or even leg kicks. Nonetheless, Covington did appear to slow a bit in the later rounds, but not as much as dos Anjos did under Covington’s constant pressure. I can’t really fault dos Anjos though as Covington had never gone into championship rounds whereas dos Anjos had plenty of experience deep into fights. What really sucks though is it appears unlikely dos Anjos will get another chance for welterweight gold as he’s not the most marketable character.

Robert Whittaker defeated Yoel Romero via split decision

Given Romero continues to age – as everyone does — and lost the first contest between these two, there weren’t very many picking the 41-year old Cuban. Romero’s tough weight cut didn’t help matters. He appeared drained early on, throwing very little volume over the first two rounds, allowing Whittaker to piece him up. However, that was all part of the former Olympian’s plan. Romero exploded in the third, rocking Whittaker only for Whittaker to hurt him as well… then Romero hurt him again. It was arguably the best round of the year. The fourth could have gone either way as Whittaker controlled most of the round only for Romero to come close to finishing him in the last 30 seconds. The fifth round saw Romero come thisclose to finishing Whittaker multiple times… and yet not a single judge awarded him a 10-8 round. It proved costly as Whittaker took a split decision win.

As of late, I’ve been trying to avoid going into as much details into the narrative of the fights, but it was impossible not to for this contest. The decision is incredibly controversial. The first three rounds were pretty clear cut, 2-1 for Whittaker. The fourth round was up for grabs and the fifth round appeared to be as one-sided as a round can be… at least I thought it was. How in the hell did no judges score that a 10-8 round for Romero? I realize Romero wasn’t going to win the belt, but it didn’t mean there wasn’t any meaning to the contest. Given how good the two contests were, a third contest would be more likely so long as Whittaker wasn’t the winner. Damn the MMA gods for cursing me!!!

Everyone knows about Romero’s freakish athleticism. However, Romero’s intelligence is highly underrated. He spent the first two rounds getting a feel for Whittaker’s timing and movement. From there, he hurt Whittaker in every round by landing a powerful punch. It’s amazing the man is able to remain an elite athlete despite his advanced age. Given the competitive nature of this fight and how close Romero was to making weight, Uncle Dana may end up reneging on his decision to force Romero up to light heavyweight. If there is to be a third contest, I hope it happens as soon as possible as Father Time is undefeated. Romero is going to start declining sooner rather than later… right?

While I don’t believe Whittaker won – I scored it a draw – it doesn’t mean I’m any less impressed by his performance. He showed great respect for Romero’s power early, avoiding the few big shots the would-be-challenger attempted. However, Whittaker’s ability to avoid damage was compromised after Romero knocked him to the ground the first time. Whittaker’s ability to not only survive, but come back to hurt Romero within the round was truly a herculean effort. As the old guard of middleweight fades out, it looks more and more all the time that Whittaker could be the champion for a very long time.

Well, those are my thoughts. Until next time….


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