LAS VEGAS — It was expected to be a star-making performance from Israel Adesanya as he challenged the man that nobody wanted to fight, Yoel Romero. Instead, it was a baffling display of posturing and posing that resulted in a fight that lacked action and was lustily booed but saw Adesanya retain his UFC middleweight title by unanimous decision.
Aware that Adesanya’s offense was predicated on capitalizing on the striking mistakes of his opponents, Romero refused to lead the dance and decided to feint, mug and hope that Adesanya would open up so he could explode with a powerful left hook.
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That happened midway through a lackluster first round when Romero landed a hard left hook that rocked the champion. That punch caused Adesanya to be more cautious with his approach and led to round after round of stalemates broken up by an occasional leg kick or punch thrown. But Romero simply didn’t do enough in the middle rounds as he continued to give the New Zealander different looks but opted not to fire.
The 2000 Olympic silver medalist in wrestling finally shot for a takedown after being poked in the eye in the third round and managed to get Adesanya to the canvas. But Adesanya popped up to his feet and circled away from his stalking opponent.
Adesanya and Romero danced a dance that was eerily reminiscent of the Tyron Woodley-Stephen Thompson UFC 209 clash that saw both fighters refuse to engage. Romero began to talk to Adesanya in the fourth round, but that was all the action we would get aside from the champion landing several leg kicks.
The crowd jeered heavily throughout and filled the arena with boos in the final round. The only action was Adesanya flipping his opponent the bird when Romero dared him to come forward and exchange punches with him in the closing seconds.
In the end, Adesanya had the judges see it in his favor with scores of 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46. But nobody was satisfied with the result.
Fortunately, all was not lost Saturday, because the co-main event delivered what is likely the greatest women’s MMA fight of all time as Weili Zhang squeezed by Joanna Jedrzejczyk via split decision to retain her strawweight title.
From the opening bell, the action was frantic. Zhang and Jedrzejczyk engaged in an absolutely thrilling firefight filled with wicked exchanges and scintillating action. Jedrzejczyk’s varied assault sought to thwart Zhang’s aggressive advances and both found success throughout the fight in a breathtaking display of offense. Zhang’s power separated the two and a thudding right hand in the second frame created a grotesque hematoma on the forehead of the former champion.
The action never let up as the rounds progressed. Neither did the swelling on Jedrzejczyk’s head that reached Hasim Rahman proportions. The Polish fighter refused to back down, however, and continued to step into the pocket and exchange with the champion. Both landed hard right hands throughout as Jedrzejczyk mixed up her assault to make up for the lack of power while Zhang repeatedly landed bombs that would move her opponent backward.
An absolute thriller that left the crowd standing in applause entering the fifth round saw the two combatants leave it all in the Octagon with a dizzying display of offense. Jedrzejczyk snapped Zhang’s head back on several occasions but the champion dug deep to find yet another barrage of power shots as the fight came to a close.
Two judges saw it in favor of the champion with 48-47 scores while one judge gave it to the challenger with a 48-47 score. Although Zhang retained, one can fully expect these two to meet again in the future.
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