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UFC 248, The Morning After: Making sense of Yoel Romero’s bizarre performance

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Here’s what you may have missed from last night!

Israel Adesanya did exactly what he was supposed to do last night.

In the pre-fight hype videos, Adesanya spent a lot of time talking about becoming the first man to knock out Yoel Romero. Unless Romero ducked into a high kick, however, that was never likely. Adesanya is a technician and a sniper, happy to win on small margins if no perfect opening emerges.

Remember the Anderson Silva fight? From a big picture perspective, this was a similar win for Adesanya, who kicked apart the leg and avoided running into any heavy shots. To sum it up: Adesanya’s performance makes sense to me.

Yoel Romero’s performance required a lot more thought.

If there’s one thing I pride myself on as an MMA writer, it’s understanding a fighter’s mindset. Whether a game plan comes to fruition or fails miserable, I do my best to place myself in the athlete’s position and try to figure out precisely what they’re feeling, what they’re thinking. Ideally, I look to gain insight that would be hard to gather without personal fighting experience.

Sadly, Romero’s thought process and overall game plan remain pretty baffling. As I watched, my initial theory was that Romero was conserving energy masterfully. He stole the first round and only threw four strikes! That’s a brilliant start, one that gave Romero a lot of wiggle room. Think about it: Romero moved into the second so fresh that it essentially became a four-round fight, and Romero only needed to win two of them!

As time crept by, I continued to believe that Romero must have a master plan. Who cares if he lost the second round, he’ll turn it up in the third, rest in the fourth, and go hard in the final round! After all, Romero has a history of such trickery. However, the third round snuck away as well, and now Romero was in a position where he absolutely had to win the next two rounds or score a knockout.

That’s no longer an ideal situation, as Romero’s inactivity cut away his theoretical recovery round. Still, Romero hadn’t done much, maybe he was planning for a 10-minute sprint! That fourth round — in which another five uneventful minutes ticked by — was really when reality set in. I realized there was no grand strategy here: Romero’s leg was getting worse, and now he had put himself in a position where he must win via knockout.

The brilliant first round was now meaningless.

Romero finally turned it up a notch (barely), winning the fifth on two scorecards. He still lost the fight, because he never actually tried to accomplish anything in rounds two, three, or four. Those rounds were close enough that a single takedown and 30 seconds of top control could have swayed the round — AND THEREFORE THE FIGHT?!? — to Romero’s side. Romero had the energy to make that happen or at least try.

My hypothesis thrown out the window, I reconsidered the entire fight. As the fifth round played out and the bruising on Romero’s thigh worsened, it became apparent just how much of Romero’s game last night was smoke and mirrors.

Against an opponent unwilling to fall into his traps, a foe willing to fight for points, Romero looked much more ordinary. Romero didn’t have a special plan or hidden technique up his sleeve. Romero barely had any moments of true explosion, the acts of athleticism that are his signature.

As his leg gave out in the final round, Romero looked frustrated. Really, it was just an older fighter getting kicked to pieces and failing to keep up with the younger champion. There is nothing fun or exciting in this take, but it’s my best guess as to why Romero performed the way he did.

For complete UFC 248: “Adesanya vs. Romero” results and play-by-play, click HERE!