One of the most anticipated fights of the year and maybe the most anticipated fight ever in the middleweight division is finally here. Israel Adesanya takes on Yoel Romero in a quest for glory. Adesanya was supposed to defend his belt against Brazilian Paulo Costa, who last beat Romero via controversial split decision, but an injury cleared the path for Romero to step in, and the Nigerian born fighter gladly accepted Romero´s challenge knowing a victory over the Cuban wrestling legend would be an enormous piece of his legacy.
Yoel Romero has always been a fan favourite since joining the UFC. The multiple time wrestling world champion and Olympic medalist is a freak of nature with once in a generation athletic abilities that have helped him produce a string of incredible knockouts over the who´s who of the UFC´s middleweight division, including former champions Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold. The only people capable of besting the cuban have been the aforementioned Costa and former champion Robert Whittaker in a couple of fights. In the first fight he earned a close but clear decision winning the decisive final round, but he got awarded a decision most people thought Romero deserved in the second meeting, this writer included. Nobody is in a hurry to face Romero, but Adesanya was willing to accept this difficult task for his first tittle defence. Despite being an otherwordly wrestler, Romero seldom employs his wrestling during his fights, prefering to strike with opposition in order to not compromise his gas tank. He is an underrated tactician and his incredible ability to absorb punishment and excellent timing allow him to wait until the perfect moment to find the fight ending blow.
Israel Adesanya joined the UFC with a lot of hype behind him. Already well known among the hardcore fans for his elite kickboxing career, he has produced a string of near perfect performances until reaching the pinnacle of the division by knocking out well respected champion Robert Whittaker in his last outing and claiming the belt. An always improving fighter, Adesanya quickly erased the early doubts about his grappling capabilities with a complete shutdown of Brad Tavares and a destruction of veteran contender Derek Brunson. After them came a star making fight with fading legend Anderson Silva and a fight of the year against Kelvin Gastelum for the right to compete for the belt that became an instant classic. There is no secret about what Adesanya intends to do during his fights. One of the best strikers to ever step into the octagon, he will slowly dissect and punish opposition until achieving complete dominance or finding the lethal blows while maintaining the fight on the feet.
So how is this fight going to play out? There are a few possible scenarios in this fight, but all of them share a common characteristic. The fight will be fought on the feet. This will be a striking battle. Some people may wonder if Yoel would try to implement his grappling here. In this writer´s opinion, the answer is a loud no, and I will explain why. First, Romero can easily take people down whenever he wants most of the time, specially early, but he does not do it to not compromise his gas tank, which is always a question mark at 42 and carrying and obscene amount of muscle in his frame. When Romero takes people down, he almost never establishes dominance, he looks to get his punches in and opposition gets up fast if they are not unconscious. Second, Israel Adesanya is very capable of defending takedowns and whenever he gets taken down he gets up, and he does it fast. He has got up in every single ocassion he has been taken down in the UFC. The only scenario for a grappling heavy approach by Romero here would be the cuban going for broke early trying to pound Adesanya once on the ground repeatedly, but he would be toast if he did not get the finish because his gas tank would be completely wasted after. Does not look like a real possibility to me. Is it possible we see some type of takedown attemp by Romero here? For sure, but it would be a fast action trying to find a finish rather than a continued grappling effort.
What happens on the feet? Adesanya is no doubt the faster, bigger and finer striker here. He also enjoys a decent reach advantage and can easily outvolume Romero over the course of five rounds. Adesanya has great cardio and is very efficient with his energy and movement. But Yoel has the big equaliser, his God given power. The man can change a fight with a single punch and has a tremendous chin, and we have already seen Adesanya rocked in his fight against Kelvin Gastelum quite bad. This will be the never ending game in combat sports of the bull and the matador. I suspect Romero will try to mirror his gameplan in the Robert Whittaker rematch, doing his best Joe Frazier impression with a high crossed guard and some head movement trying to find his spots to explode with bursts against the fence to find the fight altering shot, but I doubt he will have a lot of success doing that against Adesanya´s magnificent footwork. Adesanya on his part will jab and work Romero´s front leg while countering over the top everytime the Cuban offers him the slightest of holes in his defense. As the intelligent fighter he is, Israel will not let Yoel implement the slow paced chess match war he wants. He will impose a high pace and whenever Romero gets his back to the fence he will harass him to drain his gas tank and punish him forcing him to fight and stand when he does not want to. Add to all of that both men can change the fight at any moment, Romero with a big bomb to end the fight and Adesanya with his sniper right hand finding Romero´s chin clean and hurting him, giving him the perfect scenario to slowly dissect him towards a finish after that.
Depending on how much success Romero actually has corraling Adesanya and damaging him, this could develop into a real war, but I tend to think the marvelous Nigerian produces a career defining performance here. I think he will dominate the action over the course of the fight punishing Romero, even if he has to survive some scary moments along the way. I think his pace and precision will eventually wear down the cuban legend and Adesanya will capitalise smoothly picking his shots punishing Yoel towards a surgical late stoppage. I can see an agonizing Romero moving along the fence being punished until The Last Stylebender finally finds the clean shot he needs to put the icing on the cake during the championship rounds.
At the time of this writing, Adesanya is the decent sized betting favourite at (-250) while Romero sits at (+230). Whichever way the fight develops, it has all the ingredients of an instant classic. The winner of this fight will undoubtedly be the best 185 pounder on planet earth and in this writer´s opinion, the best middleweight ever with all due respect to the legend Anderson Silva. Brace yourselves, this one is for all the fucking marbles. A fight for the ages.
OFFICIAL PICK: Israel Adesanya by KO/TKO