CHICAGO (AP) – Robert Whittaker survived a stunning blow in the fifth round to win a grueling split decision in a rematch with Yoel Romero at UFC 225 on Saturday night.
Whittaker (21-4) won despite losing his job in the fifth. He was shaken after taking a hard left hand to Romero (13-3) at the start of the round, and the fight was marked 48-47 by the three judges, one in favor of Romero.
Whittaker also injured his right hand in the first round.
The fight was in jeopardy when Romero lost 185 pounds on Friday morning. Romero topped a pound in the first weight, then 0.2 in the second and final weight. The fight was originally for the middleweight championship. The duo fought equally, but without a belt on the line.
“It’s a long flight to Chicago. If I travel 22 hours, I fight someone, mate,” said Whittaker, who is from New Zealand.
Romero was provisional in the first round, and Whittaker damaged his right eye in the second with a kick. Romero exploded in the third, landing on the left and dropping the champion. Romero controlled the third round with a series of combinations, but Whittaker scored twice.
Whittaker kicked Romero below the belt in the fourth round, stopping the fight for about a minute. Whittaker regained control in the fourth, but Romero landed hard on the left and right at the end of the round. In the fifth, Romero controlled the round, dropped Whittaker with a series of left hands, and then struck with his right hand.
In UFC 213, Whittaker avoided a terrifying 25-minute fight against Romero with the three judges scoring 48-47.
This card featured five current and former UFC champions in front of an exhausted United Center crowd. In the main event, Colby Covington (14-1) defeated Rafael dos Anjos (28-10) for the interim welterweight championship in a unanimous decision. Covington controlled the five-round title fight beating the former lightweight champion. The very French Covington called the current welterweight champion Tyron Woodley. Woodley has been away from home with a shoulder injury.
In his second professional fight, former WWE star CM Punk, a native of Chicago, made people sing his name in the first round, but Punk could not show any sense of strength in the cage against Mike Jackson (1-1). Jackson splashed Punk (0-2) with punches to the face throughout the fight and won in a poor unanimous decision. Punk, who appeared on the main card, did not help maintain his position with the UFC after two disappointing demonstrations.
Another Chicago native, Curtis Blaydes, continued to climb the heavyweight rankings with an impressive second-round TKO from Alistair Overeem. Blaydes (10-1-1) dropped Overeem (43-17-1) and then damaged the face of contender no. 2 with a series of elbows before the fight stopped.
Former heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski (27-16 years old) lost in a slugfest against Tai Tuivasa (10-0). The three judges scored it 29-28. Former bantamweight champion Holly Holm (12-4) impressed with her free-kick and field game beating Megan Anderson (8-3) in a unanimous decision.
In a fight against flyweight, Sergio Pettis (17-3) defeated No. 1 candidate Joseph Benavidez (25-5) in a split decision. Pettis’ stunning play was the difference, as he bounced back from losing the unanimous decision against No. 2 candidate Henry Cejudo.
Lightweight champion Rashad Evans grabbed his right knee in the face, followed by a right hand from Anthony Smith (29-13) before the fight stopped in the first round as Evans (24-8- 1) he lost his fifth consecutive fight.
During the card, the UFC announced that former UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey will be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame on July 5 in Las Vegas. Rousey was the first female wrestler signed by the UFC and had six consecutive defenses for the title.