Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya put his title on the line for the first time against Yoel Romero in the UFC 248 main event on Saturday and the fight left the fans inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas wanting more.
Romero stepped out of his corner with his hands up and stood stationary to start the opening round. The tactic was effective because Adesanya didn’t seem to know how to deal with it. There wasn’t a strike thrown for the first 80 seconds of the round. There were only five strikes landed in the entire frame. Romero connected with a counter left hand and landed a kick to the body. Adesanya delivered two leg kicks.
Israel employed a strategy of staying on the outside and peppering Romero with kicks, but his output was low. Romero waited patiently to try and counter but Adesanya didn’t give him a lot of opportunities.
Romero tried to lull Adesanya into a false sense of security and then explode forward with a combination. He was unable to cleanly connect. While Adesanya’s output was minimal, he still outworked Romero.
Before the start of the fourth round, referee Dan Miragliotta instructed the two to step up the action. “There are two rounds left. You have to give the judges something to score,” said Miragliotta.
Adesanya continued to target Romero’s legs. Romero decided change things up and utilize his Olympic-level wrestling. He drove forward and took Adesanya down but couldn’t keep him there. The champion immediately bounced back to his feet and circled away. The damage to Romero from the leg kicks started to add up. Adesanya buckled Romero’s knee with a kick and fended off a takedown attempt to win the round.
Heading into the final frame, it appeared Adesanya was doing more, but it was difficult to tell how the judges were scoring the fight. Adesanya continued to connect with leg kicks while Romero looked to counter with a big shot. The two exchanged in the closing seconds and had a face-to-face verbal exchange after the bell.
After 25-minutes inside the Octagon, the judges scored the fight for Adesanya by unanimous decision. The scorecards read 48-47, 48-47, and 49-46.
“It was a hard fight, but cliche, I did what I had to do. You see he’s going to be limping. Look at his leg. Look at his leg. I f—ed his leg up,” said Adesanya following the win.
“He touched me in the first round. That was the hardest shot he could land on me. After that I knew that, okay, I could take his best shot. I did what I had to do. I picked him apart. The legs don’t lie… I did what I had to do to win that fight,” added the champion. “I wanted to touch him a little more but unfortunately it’s hard to engage with someone who doesn’t want to dance.”
Romero was upset with how the fight played out and criticized Adesanya during his post-fight interview. He accused Adesanya of “running.”
“The people wanted to see a real fight, really out on a limb. That’s what the people want to see. He was running and running and running. That’s not a big champion. The big champion needs to stay here in the middle and fight like a real champion,” said the 42-year-old Cuban.
“People paid for the pay-per-view for a real fight. Not for this,” he said. “You need to respect the people. The people are working a lot and paid for the pay-per-view. For what? For a fight, not running. If you want to see running, go see Usain Bolt.”