Whittaker rallies, tops Romero for interim title

1:48 AM ET

LAS VEGAS — Robert Whittaker is the UFC’s interim middleweight champion and will face Michael Bisping in a title unification bout next.

He was forced to earn every bit of it.

Whittaker (19-4) defeated Yoel Romero (12-2) via unanimous decision in the main event of UFC 213 inside T-Mobile Arena on Saturday night. All three judges scored the five-round fight 48-47 for Whittaker. ESPN also scored it 48-47 for Whittaker.

UFC 213 undercard recap: Overeem edges Werdum

Prior to UFC 213’s main event between Yoel Romero and Robert Whittaker, a multitude of undercard fights had major implications. Here’s how it went down.

Fighting out of Sydney, Whittaker, 26, claimed the interim 185-pound championship belt despite suffering a serious left leg injury early in the fight. Replays showed his left knee was hyperextended from a Romero front kick. He gingerly hopped on it several times, and even had it buckle underneath him in the fourth round.

“It bothered me pretty good,” said Whittaker, who now has won eight consecutive fights. “I sustained an injury in camp. I thought it would be 100 percent, but he kicked it and set it back weeks.

“It was unstable. Had he got another good one, I would have dropped. It was pretty bad, but champions are made of this stuff.”

It was a champion-level effort by Whittaker, especially considering he fell behind on the scorecards early. After clearly losing the opening two rounds, Whittaker rallied back to take the final three — on one leg.

Romero, a former Olympic silver medalist wrestler for Cuba, said he recognized the injury but was unable to capitalize on it. He did not dispute the decision.

“Very close fight,” Romero said with the help of an interpreter. “Honest, it was very, very close. If the judges said he got it, he got it.”

Bisping (30-7) watched the fight from cageside and entered the Octagon as the results were read. He had previously stated he wanted to face former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre next, but that fight now appears officially off the table.

“That was an awesome fight, well done,” Bisping said to Whittaker. “But the fact you’re standing there with a belt on makes me sick. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

The interim fight was every bit as competitive as expected. The betting odds were close all week, with both Whittaker and Romero, 40, occasionally listed as the favorite.

Romero’s speed and wrestling dictated things early, as he was able to take Whittaker down multiple times, although he struggled to keep him down. Romero also bloodied Whittaker’s nose with punches and nearly dropped a hammer with a flying-knee attempt.

Whittaker weathered the early storm, however, and Romero appeared to be fading as early as the third round. By the fifth, Romero was visibly exhausted, as Whittaker attacked the body with one front kick after another.

Midway through the crucial fifth round, Romero slipped as he threw a punch, which might have been the difference in the fight. Whittaker, who was also exhausted at that point, followed him to the floor and scored with ground and pound.

The loss snaps an eight-fight winning streak for Romero, who trains out of American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida.

No timetable has been set for the unification bout. UFC president Dana White has stated St-Pierre, who hasn’t fought since 2013, will face the winner of a welterweight title fight between Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia later this month, rather than Bisping.

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