MMA: Robert Whittaker wins split decision over Yoel Romero after scintillating showdown in UFC 225

Robert Whittaker of New Zealand (left) and Yoel Romero of Cuba each attempt a kick in the fifth round in their middleweight title fight, on June 9, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.
Robert Whittaker of New Zealand (left) and Yoel Romero of Cuba each attempt a kick in the fifth round in their middleweight title fight, on June 9, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. PHOTO: AFP

CHICAGO (WASHINGTON POST) - After Yoel Romero missed weight on Friday (June 8) for his second consecutive bout, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fans were undoubtedly anxious - as the fate of Romero's Saturday night showdown against UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker was suddenly up in the air.

But the bout was allowed to proceed - and thank goodness it was, because it was sensational.

Robert Whittaker scored a second straight decision victory over Yoel Romero to retain his UFC middleweight championship, in an outstanding action fight to punctuate a stout UFC 225 card.

Early on, Whittaker appeared to be in control. His consistent striking and sustained leg kicks scored clear victories in the first two rounds. And with Romero's right eye dramatically swollen, the Cuban challenger appeared to be in serious trouble.

But thanks to some terrific corner work and a few huge strikes, the tables promptly turned, and Romero got back in the contest. Whittaker showed an incredible chin and all kinds of heart to fend off Romero's attacks. The champion regained momentum and dominated most of the fourth frame, until a late Romero rally.

And then the challenger launched a furious attack in the fifth and final round - which could have conceivably been scored 10-8 in his favour. But it was not, and Whittaker prevailed 48-47 on two of the three judges' cards.

Overall, this main event served as an exclamation point on a strong evening of fights. The sport is undoubtedly building some momentum ahead of absolutely stacked UFC 226 in Las Vegas - headlined by the much-anticipated heavyweight title contest between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier.

Other fights:

Colby Covington (14-1) defeated Rafael Dos Anjos (28-10) by unanimous decision. (49-46, 48-47, 48-47)

Covington's constant pressure carried the day and earned him a clear decision and the interim UFC welterweight championship.

From the opening seconds, he came forward and never allowed Dos Anjos to get into his rhythm. Much of this bout was spent in the clinch - where Covington outlanded Dos Anjos 81-57.

Dos Anjos rallied briefly in the fourth round to score several takedowns. But Covington, the decorated college wrestler, displayed solid defence and was able to get back to his feet.

Covington, whose constant trash talking and other antics have not won him many fans, promptly called out welterweight champion Tyron Woodley in the octagon post-fight.

Holly Holm (12-4) defeated Megan Anderson (8-3) by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-26, 30-26)

The touted UFC newcomer got a rude welcome to the promotion from Holm, who fought a terrific tactical fight to claim the victory.

Despite her extensive boxing background, Holm looked to get this fight to the ground at every opportunity. And when she did, the 36-year-old had great success. She maintained top position for lengthy periods in all three rounds, and punctuated her victory with outstanding ground-and-pound.

The numbers told the story: Holm dominated in terms of both significant strikes (65-22) and control time (10:39-0:00). It was a superb performance by Holm, who is likely headed back down to bantamweight for a possible title showdown with Amanda Nunes.

Tai Tuivasa (8-0) defeated Andrei Arlovski (27-16) by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

For the first time in his UFC career, Tuivasa was extended past the first round - going the distance with a former UFC heavyweight champion in Arlovski. But the 25-year-old Australian answered a number of questions by outpointing the battle-tested veteran in a tight contest.

Tuivasa, the former boxer, landed some terrific head strikes throughout the fight.

A strong rally midway through the final round helped him put away the former champion, who showed his mettle and made the young fighter earn the victory. Tuivasa got the job done, and should move into the top 10 with the win. But he might need just a bit more seasoning before he's ready to mix it up with the best in the division.

- Mike Jackson defeated CM Punk (30-26, 30-26, 30-26).