In a fight that could best be described as a chess match, or a tactical battle, Adesanya deservedly outpointed Yoel Romero on all three of the judges’ scorecards to complete his first defense of his 185-pound title with scores of 48-47, 49-46, 48-47.
But, while he may have won the fight, he wasn’t a winner in the eyes of many watching inside T-Mobile Arena.
That’s not to say the fans raining boos down on the champion after the fight didn’t think Adesanya won. The boos were more an expression of disappointment, rather than injustice. Adesanya outstruck Romero throughout the fight, but given Romero’s almost complete refusal to open up for long spells of the contest, it meant “The Last Stylebender” didn’t actually have to do too much himself to win the rounds needed to secure the victory.
But merely winning rounds in an uneventful fight isn’t enough when you’re being marketed as the sport’s next big thing, and the Vegas crowd let that fact be known as they showered the octagon with boos after the fight.
Adesanya was unapologetic as he admitted fighting pragmatically to secure the victory against a man who has a reputation for drawing opponents into mistakes during fights.
“It was a hard fight, but, cliché, I did what I had to do,” he told Joe Rogan immediately after his win.
“I picked him apart. The legs don’t lie. I did what I have to do to win that fight.
“He plays the game in lulls. He tries to get you into a false sense of security. My coaches said I need 25 minutes of sharpness, but it’s hard to engage with someone who doesn’t want to dance. I touched him up. And still.”
Romero, meanwhile, seemed to think he had been wronged by the champion, and verbalized his frustration as he criticized the champion for the heinous crime of not running headlong into his punches and opening himself up to be knocked out on the counter.
“He was running and running and running. That’s not a champion,” he said.
“The people pay pay-per-view for a real fight, not for this. The people pay because they want to see a good fight. Not this. You need to respect the people. They pay for a fight, not for running.”
Romero’s assertion about the paying fans is spot-on, but his apportioning of blame wasn’t. He was in there with Adesanya for 25 minutes and, despite being the challenger – the man who has to go in there and TAKE the title from the champion – he failed to open up and go on the attack. He wanted the fight to come to him and, when Adesanya smartly declined that scenario, Romero was left with no option but to come charging forward himself. But he didn’t.
It would be pretty hard to rewatch the fight and score it for Romero. The 42-year-old – in what was probably his last crack at a UFC title – clearly had a tactic to wait his moment and catch Adesanya when he opened up with his flashy striking arsenal.
But Adesanya is wiser than that, and that flashy striking never came. Instead, the Nigerian-born Kiwi kept it tight, kept it composed and, to paraphrase his quotes above, did what he had to do to win.
In most sports, that would be lauded as a workmanlike, professional performance. But in the UFC, where hyperbole rules and spectacular performances are almost demanded, it simply wasn’t enough, as Adesanya’s big moment in his first U.S. pay-per-view was a damp squib.
He won’t care, though. Nor should he. The rampaging Brazilian Paulo Costa is likely to be his next challenge, and that will bring everything the fans want to see, and then some.
The only difference in that matchup now is maybe a few fans who might have been supporting Adesanya may now be pulling for “Borrachinha.”
One suspects that this matchup will be quickly forgotten after we’ve seen Adesanya vs. Costa later this year.
By Simon Head