When Yoel Romero faced Luke Rockhold at this past Saturday’s UFC 221, there was an observer paying attention more closely than the rest — UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker.
With interim title ramifications (even though Romero was technically ineligible after missing weight) Whittaker watched the bout knowing he would likely step in and face the winner in his first UFC title defence. Both Romero and Rockhold provide hugely different challenges to the champion, but also represent two of the most elite fighters at 185-pounds today.
For Whittaker, the biggest takeaway wasn’t necessarily the manner in which Romero won (a brutal knockout), but rather the way in which the Cuban fought.
“I thought it was a great fight to watch,” Whittaker said, speaking on GrangeTV. “It was very unique. I think Romero went out there and he looked completely opposite to what he usually does when he goes in there. And you can’t be sure whether — because he was mentioning a back injury earlier — you can’t be sure if it was the back injury and that’s what prevented him from not doing his usual explosive, unorthodox movement patterns. Or if it was the game plan, because it worked so well.
“He stood at perfect range from Rockhold, predicted all his strikes. All his strikes, all his combos. And Rockhold couldn’t kick, because he always lands the kick or tries to — doesn’t really set up his kick too well — [Romero] checked it. Rockhold would work with his combos, no more than two or three, [Romero would] block them.
“And then he’d just explode moving forward, landing punches, not overextending too much and once he started realising, ‘Okay, he’s not knocked out’ he backed it up, took a breath, did absolutely nothing until he was ready to explode again. Genius or injured? Who knows.”
Regardless whether or not it was through necessity or through design, Whittaker couldn’t help being impressed with Romero’s willingness to relax and predict Rockhold’s maneuvers.
“I was impressed,” he said. “I was impressed with Romero’s confidence in Rockhold’s patterns. For Romero, for anyone to go in there and put on that sort of game plan, that sort of show, he had undoubted confidence and prediction on what Rockhold was going to do. And Rockhold did it.”