Robert Whittaker Wins Interim Middleweight Title in Five-Round War with Yoel Romero at UFC 213

Robert Whittaker needed all five rounds and a ton of heart to gut out a unanimous decision win against Yoel Romero to become the new interim middleweight champion in the UFC 213 main event.

Whittaker faced Romero due to champion Michael Bisping being sidelined with a knee injury that has kept him out of action for all of 2016. In his absence, Whittaker was matched up with Romero to crown a new champion with the winner expected to meet Bisping later this year.

After five, hard fought rounds, Whittaker powered through an early knee injury to not only beat Romero, but also became the first Australian in history to hold UFC gold.

Whittaker set the pace early by establishing his jab as he took the center of the Octagon, while Romero countered with an explosive takedown as he drove the New Zealand native across the Octagon before hitting the mat.

Romero managed to land another takedown later in the round but each time Whittaker popped back up before resetting in the center of the cage.

While Whittaker was more accurate with his striking, Romero came back with a hard push kick to the knee that clearly did some damage. As Whittaker made his way back to the feet, he was favoring his left leg and stepping gingerly as he tried to re-establish his striking base.

Robert WhittakerWhen the round came to an end, Whittaker told his coaches that his left knee was ‘trashed’ after the kick was delivered from Romero in the opening round.

Despite the injury, Whittaker showed no fear stepping out for the second round, but Romero was quick to put him on the mat with another powerful takedown. Romero’s grueling pace continued as he punished Whittaker in the clinch while muscling him around the Octagon, never giving him a moment to catch his breath.

Romero’s output may have drained his gas tank a bit going into the third round as the momentum shifted into Whittaker’s favor with his strikes finding a home with more accuracy and volume.

Whittaker tagged Romero with a stiff left hand that staggered the former Olympic silver medalist as he started to back up while attempting to regain his composure as the round moved forward. The pendulum was definitely swinging in Whittaker’s favor as his confidence continued to grow with each punch and kick landed while Romero was labored in almost every movement throughout the round.

Romero tried to shift things back in his favor with an early takedown at the start of the fourth round, but Whittaker scrambled free before separating to get back to the center of the cage.

From there, Whittaker went on the attack with a string of hard, stinging left hands that each found a home with Romero going into survival mode as the seconds ticked away on the clock. With less than a minute to go, Whittaker clipped Romero with another barrage of strikes that had the 40-year old Cuban in trouble before the round came to a close with Romero dangling his arms over the cage wall, breathing heavy from the exhaustive pace.

Before the fifth round got started, coaches for both Whittaker and Romero told the fighters that the result would probably come down to the final five minutes.

While Whittaker was the fresher fighter, even he was starting to slow down but the 26-year old slugger was still deadly accurate with a big knee that opened a cut on Romero’s head. Whittaker stayed active with a few more hard punches landed as Romero’s conditioning continued to fade.

Late in the round, Whittaker surged forward with a takedown of his own as Romero conceded his position on the bottom as he started eating a barrage of nasty shots from the former “Ultimate Fighter” winner.

Whittaker continued to blast away at Romero until the final horn sounded as the five round, instant classic came to a close.

When it was over, the judges all agreed with 48-47 scores across the board with Whittaker being crowned as the new interim middleweight champion of the world.

“This is unbelievable. It’s a moment I’ve always dreamed of,” Whittaker said after the fight. “My knee was definitely hurt. I injured it in camp and Romero’s kick set it back weeks. I know that Romero will capitalize on any weakness he sees so I had to play it off. That’s just what champions are made of.

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“I’m ready to fight [Michael] Bisping next. I believe it was destiny for us to meet and I am looking forward to it!”

After the fight ended, Bisping made his way into the cage to confront Whittaker, who was wearing the interim title belt around his waist handing Romero his first loss in the UFC.

“The fact that you’re standing there with that [expletive] belt on, you’re a champion, it makes me sick,” Bisping shouted. “You should be ashamed of yourself!”

Despite the harsh words from the middleweight champion, Whittaker just smiled while celebrating the biggest win of his UFC career — at least until he gets the opportunity to face Bisping later this year.

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