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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)

UFC 213: Robert Whittaker edges Yoel Romero; Michael Bisping throws down the gauntlet

Australian crowned new interim middleweight champion after unanimous decision win in Las Vegas

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 July, 2017, 2:51pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 July, 2017, 10:34pm

Robert Whittaker won the UFC interim middleweight title on Saturday night, surging in the late rounds to earn a unanimous decision over Yoel Romero at UFC 213.

Whittaker (20-4) recovered from a hyperextended knee in the first round with a strong striking performance, peppering Romero (12-2) with punches and kicks over the final three rounds.

The Australian won his eighth consecutive fight, earning the victory 48-47 on all three judges’ scorecards at T-Mobile Arena.

“It’s a moment I’ve always dreamed of,” Whittaker said. “My knee was definitely hurt. I injured it in camp, and Romero’s kick set it back weeks.

“I know that Romero will capitalise on any weakness he sees, so I had to play it off. That’s just what champions are made of.”

The main event of the UFC’s traditional July showcase in its hometown was cancelled earlier in the day when bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes was taken to hospital.

She was scratched from her second title defence against Valentina Shevchenko, who criticised the champion’s preparation for the bout.

Alistair Overeem also beat Fabricio Werdum by narrow majority decision in the third career meeting of two veteran heavyweights, and former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis also returned to the division with a unanimous decision victory over Jim Miller.

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Whittaker took advantage of his bout’s promotion to the main event by claiming the belt in front of a pay-per-view audience.

He earned the chance to fight for the full 185-pound title held for the past year by Michael Bisping, who is injured.

Bisping stepped into the cage afterward and congratulated Whittaker in his own irascible style.

“The fact that you’re standing there with a belt on makes me sick,” the Englishman said, throwing his own belt on the canvas. “Take that belt. Fight for it.”

Romero’s Olympic-level wrestling skills kept Whittaker on the defensive for much of the first two rounds. Whittaker increased his striking output while Romero sat back in the third and fourth, with Whittaker also defending Romero’s takedowns more adroitly.

Romero was cut on his left eyebrow while Whittaker had a bloody nose and mouth in the final round, which looked even until Romero slipped onto his back with 90 seconds left after failing to land a strike. Whittaker jumped on top to rain down blows to the final horn.

All three judges saw the fight identically, scoring the first two rounds for Romero and the final three for Whittaker.

The 40-year-old Romero was gracious after his eight-fight winning streak ended, praising his opponent.

Whittaker will get the chance to remove the interim designation from his belt when Bisping returns from injury, although it might not happen this year. The middleweight division has been in limbo ever since Bisping shockingly beat champion Luke Rockhold last summer and then fought old rival Dan Henderson instead of Romero, Whittaker or another top contender.