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UFC 213 fight card: Yoel Romero vs Robert Whittaker preview

MMA: UFC 205-Weidman vs Romero Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight knockout artists Yoel Romero and Robert Whittaker will compete for an interim strap this Saturday (July 8, 2017) at UFC 213 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Let’s get this out of the way right now: Whoever wins this fight is the best Middleweight in the world and deserving of his championship strap. Reigning 185-pound champion Michael Bisping can call out Georges St-Pierre all he wants, and he does have a reasonable chance against the former Welterweight king.

Either of these two will almost certainly knock him out.

Moving on, this title match is the story of a pair of dark horse contenders. Despite winning eight fights and knocking out six foes, Romero has been the underdog more often than not. Similarly, few expected Whittaker to make much noise after jumping up from 170 pounds, but he’s utterly dominated each of his opponents.

Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:

Yoel Romero
Record: 13-1
Key Wins: Chris Weidman (UFC 205), Ronaldo Souza (UFC 194), Lyoto Machida (UFC Fight Night 70), Tim Kennedy (UFC 178)
Key Losses: Rafael Cavalcante (Strikeforce: "Barnett vs Kharitonov")
Keys to Victory: Romero is perhaps the greatest athlete to ever compete inside the Octagon. The Olympic silver medalist (Wrestling, Cuba) moves shockingly fast despite being almost 40 years old, and his ability to time brutal strikes and sudden takedowns is amazing as well.

Additionally, Romero has some real smarts to him. He’s aware of the limitations to his gas tank, and he’s willing to give up large portions of the fight to catch his breath before exploding again. This allows him to carry his power and explosiveness late into the fight, often outlasting his younger foes. Just watch his bout with Chris Weidman, as Romero weathered an early storm, found his range, then mauled the former champion.

In this bout, Romero cannot count on his opponent to slow down. However, he can still rely on his explode-and-rest style in the face of Whittaker’s volume, as his offense is incredibly hard to match. To defeat Whittaker, Romero will need to counter effectively. Whittaker moves a lot and chasing is tiring, but Romero has the timing — both on takedowns and punches — to catch Whittaker as he comes in. With this approach, Romero can measure his energy usage and still potentially win rounds or shut off his foe’s lights.


Robert Whittaker
Record: 18-4
Key Wins: Ronaldo Souza (UFC on FOX 24), Derek Brunson (UFC Fight Night 101), Uriah Hall (UFC 193), Rafael Natal (UFC 197)
Key Losses: Stephen Thompson (UFC 170), Court McGee (UFC Fight Night 27)
Keys to Victory: Whittaker is a kickboxer with a background in both boxing and karate. That history translates very well into the cage, as he makes full use of his swift feet, strong kicks, and very sharp combinations to overwhelm opponents.

Perhaps his most important ability relative to this fight is that he can keep a hard pace. Whittaker throws at a higher volume than his opponent, and he does it consistently. There’s no burst and recover from the Aussie; he’s throwing deadly stuff from the first bell until the final. Opposite Romero, that should allow him to score points and tire his opponent. If he’s smart, he’ll make use of low kicks and body shots, doing his best to limit Romero’s ability to explode.

In addition, Whittaker is great at feinting, and that will be important here. Romero relies heavily on his reactions and sudden explosions, but both of those things are dulled if he doesn’t know precisely what Whittaker intends. If Whittaker can force Romero to explode at the wrong time, it’s a waste of energy that can leave Romero vulnerable.

Bottom Line: It’s an exciting match up of heavy hitters to determine who is truly the best at 185 pounds.

Romero earned a showdown with Michael Bisping, and hopefully that will someday happen win-or-lose. Either way, he’s proven himself a championship-caliber fighter and athlete.

The strap simply cements that.

Unfortunately, Romero cannot afford many setbacks. He’s the oldest of the top Middleweight contenders, and the division is stacked from talent. He’ll still be in the mix, but it’ll put him multiple fights away from the belt.

The stakes are obviously high for Whittaker as well, but he does have youth on his side. If the 26-year-old Aussie comes up short, there will undoubtedly but future opportunities. That said, this could be a star-making performance for “Bobby Knuckles.” A young and well-spoken knockout artist, Whittaker has a real chance to capture the strap and become a dominant champion, as he’s a good five years younger than most of the other elite Middleweights.

At UFC 213, Yoel Romero and Robert Whittaker will duel in the co-main event. Which man will be awarded the interim title?

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