Robert Whittaker weathered an early injury to his leg to pull off a come from behind unanimous decision victory over Yoel Romero to capture the UFC interim middleweight title in the main event of UFC 213.
In a fight that was elevated to the top of the card after Amanda Nunes had to pull out of her women's bantamweight clash with Valentina Shevchenko at the 23rd hour, Whittaker put on a masterful performance that showcased his extraordinary takedown defense against a former Olympic silver medalist.
But it didn't start out great for the Aussie as a Romero oblique kick in the first round injured Whittaker's knee. After a first round that was clearly for Romero, Whittaker told his corner that his "knee was f*cked." But that wouldn't stop him from fighting.
After a second round where Romero's offense and advances gave him a 20-18 edge, Whittaker realized that he needed to ramp up the offense. The fighter known as Bobby Knuckles used a front kick to the chest, deft takedown defense and pressured Romero, who appeared to take the round off. A sequence that found Whittaker land a hard left that rocked the Cuban signaled that things were changing. The momentum was shifting and it was clear that Whittaker was just getting started.
Romero continued to try to deploy tricking leg trips and takedowns but Whittaker was having none of it. He thwarted a majority of Romero's attempts and had a fourth round that was clearly in his favor. The pressure finally got to Romero and a Whittaker combination had the previously unbeaten Cuban wobbled.
Although both were tired, Whittaker kept his foot on the gas in the final round as Romero continued to fade. Exhaustion appeared to cause Romero to fall to his back and Whittaker capitalized on the opportunity with 90 seconds left and fell into his opponent's guard. From there, Whittaker controlled Romero and rained down punches as the crowd inside of the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas roared their approval as the final bell sounded.
In the end, all three judges scored it 48-47 in favor of the new interim middleweight champion.
Afterward, Michael Bisping entered the Octagon and cut a WWE promo on what will likely be his next opponent in a unification bout.
It should certainly be an interesting fight...as long as Georges St-Pierre doesn't interfere in those plans.