Robert Whit­taker edges Romero, grabs in­terim belt at UFC 213

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Robert Whit­taker won the UFC in­terim mid­dleweight ti­tle Satur­day night, surg­ing in the late rounds to earn a unan­i­mous de­ci­sion over Yoel Romero at UFC 213. Whit­taker (20-4) re­cov­ered from a hy­per­ex­tended knee in the first round with a strong strik­ing per­for­mance, pep­per­ing Romero (122) with punches and kicks over the fi­nal three rounds. The Aus­tralian won his eighth con­sec­u­tive fight, earn­ing the victory 48-47 on all three judges’ score­cards at T-Mo­bile Arena.

“It’s a mo­ment I’ve al­ways dreamed of,” Whit­taker said. “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.”

The main event of the UFC’s tra­di­tional July show­case was can­celed ear­lier in the day when ban­tamweight cham­pion Amanda Nunes was hos­pi­tal­ized. She was scratched from her sec­ond ti­tle de­fense against Valentina Shevchenko, who crit­i­cized the cham­pion’s prepa­ra­tion for the bout. Alis­tair Overeem beat Fabri­cio Wer­dum by nar­row ma­jor­ity de­ci­sion in the third ca­reer meet­ing of two vet­eran heavy­weights. For­mer light­weight cham­pion An­thony Pet­tis also re­turned to the di­vi­sion with a unan­i­mous de­ci­sion victory over Jim Miller in the fi­nal show of In­ter­na­tional Fight Week, the an­nual mixed mar­tial arts cel­e­bra­tion in the UFC’s home­town. Whit­taker took ad­van­tage of his bout’s pro­mo­tion to the main event by claim­ing the belt in front of a pay-per-view au­di­ence. He earned the chance to fight for the full 185-pound ti­tle held for the past year by Michael Bisp­ing, who is in­jured. Bisp­ing stepped into the cage af­ter­ward and con­grat­u­lated Whit­taker in his own iras­ci­ble style. “The fact that you’re stand­ing there with a belt on makes me sick,” Bisp­ing said, throw­ing his own belt on the can­vas. “Take that belt. Fight for it.”

GRA­CIOUS

The 40-year-old Romero was gra­cious after his eight-fight win­ning streak ended, prais­ing his op­po­nent. Bisp­ing watched UFC 213 next to UFC Pres­i­dent Dana White, his cham­pi­onship belt in front of him. Romero’s ag­gres­sion kept Whit­taker on the de­fen­sive for much of the first two rounds, but Whit­taker landed sev­eral im­pres­sive strikes. Whit­taker in­creased his strik­ing out­put while Romero sat back in the third and fourth, with Whit­taker also de­fend­ing Romero’s take­downs adroitly. Romero was cut on his left eye­brow and the right side of his scalp, while Whit­taker had a bloody nose and mouth in the fi­nal round, which was fought largely on the feet. Romero slipped onto his back with 90 sec­onds left, and Whit­taker jumped on top to rain down blows.

Whit­taker will get the chance to re­move the in­terim des­ig­na­tion from his belt when Bisp­ing re­turns from in­jury, al­though it might not hap­pen this year. The mid­dleweight di­vi­sion has been in limbo ever since Bisp­ing shock­ingly beat cham­pion Luke Rock­hold last sum­mer and then fought old ri­val Dan Hen­der­son in­stead of Romero, Whit­taker or an­other top con­tender. For the third straight year, the UFC had to change the main event of its an­nual July show in Las Ve­gas at short no­tice. Last year, Jon Jones was side­lined by a vi­o­la­tion of the pro­mo­tion’s anti-dop­ing policy three days be­fore his bout against Daniel Cormier at UFC 200.

Shevchenko still showed up at T-Mo­bile Arena after be­ing de­nied her long-awaited ti­tle shot when Nunes fell ill in the hours be­fore their bout, which will be a re­match of Nunes’ nar­row win over Shevchenko in March 2016.

Shevchenko was fu­ri­ous with Nunes, claim­ing the cham­pion’s dras­tic weight cut was re­spon­si­ble for her ill­ness. She also echoed UFC Pres­i­dent Dana White’s state­ment that Nunes was med­i­cally cleared to fight, but de­clined to go from the hos­pi­tal to the cage. “You can’t just say, ‘I don’t want to fight,’” Shevchenko said. “I couldn’t be­lieve at the very last mo­ment that this would hap­pen to me. Of course I am up­set . ... I un­der­stand what she wanted. She wanted to cut (weight) in a very short time. You can­not do this. Our bod­ies need more time to re­cover.” Shevchenko was greeted with loud cheers when she was shown on the arena’s video boards be­fore the main event. Overeem (43-15) and Wer­dum (21-7-1) fin­ished a tril­ogy of fights be­tween two of the most ac­com­plished mixed mar­tial artists of their gen­er­a­tion. Wer­dum won their first meet­ing in the Pride pro­mo­tion in 2006, and Overeem won their Strike­force heavy­weight re­match in 2011.

Robert Whit­taker edges Romero, grabs in­terim belt at UFC 213

— AFP

LAS VE­GAS: Robert Whit­taker kicks Yoel Romero in their in­terim UFC mid­dleweight cham­pi­onship bout dur­ing the UFC 213 event at T-Mo­bile Arena yes­ter­day in Las Ve­gas, Ne­vada.

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