In the main event of UFC 225 on Saturday night, middleweight champion Robert Whittaker will put his title on the line against Yoel Romero. The two met for the interim title at UFC 213 and Whittaker walked out with a decision victory. Since that night, Whittaker was promoted to undisputed champion and then sat out with an injury while Romero defeated former UFC champion Luke Rockhold.
The first Whittaker-Romero fight highlighted several stylistic divergences between the two fighters. On Saturday, many of those differences likely will play key roles in the contest.
The following is analysis of the statistical categories tied to those stylistic differences that could end up being the difference.
One of the most impressive aspects of Whittaker's first performance against Romero was his ability to keep the fight standing. Romero, a former Olympic medalist in freestyle wrestling, landed four takedowns, but he also missed 14 attempts and landed only one in the final three rounds. With those 14 missed takedowns, Romero tied Mark Munoz and Rousimar Palhares for the third-most missed takedowns in a middleweight fight.
Whittaker's defensive wrestling display was not a one-fight aberration. For his UFC career, he has successfully defended 86 percent of his opponents' takedown attempts. Going into the fight with Romero, he had allowed only three takedowns in 11 fights.
Despite coming from a wrestling background, Romero has never been overly reliant on his wrestling. He has failed to land a takedown in more than half of his UFC/Strikeforce fights, and in his last bout against Rockhold, he did not even attempt a takedown. However, Whittaker's defensive wrestling can help limit the impact of Romero's wrestling and make this a striking contest.
At UFC 213, Whittaker outlanded Romero 74 to 48 in significant strikes. A key element that led to his statistical domination was his output. He attempted 221 significant strikes, while Romero attempted only 107.
These numbers represent a major stylistic difference between the two fighters. For his UFC career, Whittaker has attempted 11.63 significant strikes per minute and landed 4.77. Romero lands with higher accuracy, 52 percent compared to 41 percent, but he is much less active as a striker. He attempts only 5.87 significant strikes per minute, which leaves him with 3.06 landed per minute.
If Whittaker is once again able to make this a standing fight, he should be able to wear down Romero with his volume. In their first fight, he landed only 33 percent of his significant strike attempts, but since he threw 221, his strikes were more than enough to carry him to a decision victory.
Not only did Whittaker outland Rockhold overall but he also had a sizable advantage in terms of head strikes. He landed 46 significant head strikes while absorbing only 20. Overall, Romero is a much more diverse striker in terms of target. He lands 55 percent of his strikes to the head, 21 percent to the body and 24 percent to the legs. Meanwhile, Whittaker is much more of a headhunter. He lands an overwhelming majority of his significant strikes, 75 percent, to his opponents' heads.
For his career, Romero has done a good job defending head strikes and forcing opponents to look for other targets, as only 49 percent of his absorbed strikes have been head strikes. However, in the first fight, 62 percent of Whittaker's strikes were to Romero's head.
To be successful, Romero will need to find a way to not absorb head strikes from Whittaker and continue his diverse striking approach.
While their first fight went the full 25 minutes, both fighters have the ability and power to finish fights with their striking. Whittaker has landed at least one knockdown in six of his 12 UFC fights, and he averages 0.87 knockdowns per 15 minutes of fight time. On the other side, Romero has landed at least one knockdown in six of his 11 UFC/Strikeforce fights. The former wrestler averages 0.77 knockdowns per 15 minutes. Neither fighter registered a knockdown in the first bout, but both fighters need to be sharp defensively. Otherwise, they could end up heading to the mat after a hard strike.