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UFC 213: Robert Whittaker fights through injury to seize interim title

Alistair Overeem holds on to win against Fabricio Werdum

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Steve Marcus

Robert Whittaker of New Zealand celebrates after his unanimous decision win over Yoel Romero of Cuba in a fight for an interim middleweight title during UFC 213 at T-Mobile Arena Saturday, July 8, 2017.

Updated Saturday, July 8, 2017 | 10:52 p.m.

Robert Whittaker limped to his corner after the first round of the UFC 213 main event, and used an expletive to describe the state of his left knee.

It appeared a seven-fight win streak that included four knockouts to deliver the Australian to an interim middleweight title fight would all be for naught, as an injury would prevent him from topping Yoel Romero. Whittaker’s teammates urged him not to think about his leg, to keep going.

He somehow channeled the energy to obey their commands, prevailing in the final three rounds against Romero despite his impediment to win a unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 48-47).

“It was pretty bad,” Whittaker admitted immediately afterwards while still in the octagon, “but champions are made of this stuff.”

And Whittaker is now a champion, as long as the interim belt UFC President Dana White presented him with following the fight counts. It didn’t to everyone.

Current champion Michael Bisping, who’s currently sidelined with an injury, confronted Whittaker after the fight in the cage. He congratulated him on an “awesome” performance before calling his title fake.

“The fact that you’re standing there with that belt makes me sick,” Bisping said before he threw his own belt on the floor.

A unification bout between Bisping and Whittaker is expected before the end of the year, pending the extent of the interim champion’s injury. Whittaker said he also hurt himself during his training camp and had to alter his preparation.

Romero easily took the second round with a lopsided striking margin, but everything changed from there as he became more fatigued

“I knew I hurt his knee,” Romero said. “I was waiting for my moment.”

The moment never came with Whittaker figuring out how to manage his pain and piece together his boxing. The co-main event also featured a fighter falling just short of winning a decision.

Fabricio Werdum fell to Alistair Overeem via majority decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-28) despite clipping his old rival and nearly finishing him in the third round. The first two rounds were less action packed, but Overeem won them to notch a second straight victory.

“Round three was a little tough but I knew I had controlled the fight before then,” Overeem said. “Werdum is tough but I was the better man tonight. With that win, my next move is clear. I am ready for Stipe (Miocic) and I will take the championship.”

The two fights before the headlining bouts were clearer when they went to the scorecards. Lightweight Anthony Pettis and heavyweight Curtis Blaydes both won every round according to every judge against Jim Miller and Daniel Omielanczuk, respectively.

The most decisive win of the pay-per-view came in the fight that wasn’t even he supposed to be on it until Amanda Nunes pulled out of her scheduled main event with Valentina Schevchenko because of illness this morning. Bantamweight Rob Font picked apart Douglas Silva de Andrade before finishing with a guillotine choke at 4:36 of the second round.

Whittaker’s night didn’t go nearly as smoothly, but it ended the way he wanted — with a belt around his waist and Bisping within his sight.

“We were destined for this fight,” Whittaker said to Bisping.

Check below for the Sun’s live blog of UFC 213 with preliminary card results at the bottom of the page. Come back later for full coverage.

Pre-fight

Injuries and scheduling quirks had already prevented this year’s International Fight Week pay-per-view card from being as massive as it was in past years.

That was before UFC 213 took its biggest hit this morning a few hours before the fights were set to begin. Amanda Nunes pulled out of the women’s bantamweight championship main event against Valentina Shevchenko due to illness.

Her exit leaves tonight’s main card, which will start momentarily on pay-per-view, without any lineal title fights. An interim middleweight championship bout between Yoel Romero and Robert Whittaker is elevated to the main event.

Riding win streaks of seven and eight fights, respectively, neither Whittaker nor Romero has lost in years. Stylistically, it’s one of the best matchups the UFC has to offer but it doesn’t drive the same interest as past main events at this card such as Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen or Conor McGregor vs. Chad Mendes.

A heavyweight fight between former champion Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem might be the more appealing matchup for the non-hardcore fan, as both are well known from veteran careers in mixed martial arts. They’ve already fought each other twice, with Overeem winning a unanimous decision over Werdum in Strikefore in 2011 to avenge a 2006 submission loss in Pride.

Overeem and Werdum were promoted to the co-main event after Nunes’ cancelation. That will make for back-to-back heavyweight bouts, as they follow Curtis Blaydes and Daniel Omielanczuk in the octagon.

Bantamweights Rob Font and Douglas Silve de Andrade were promoted from the UFC Fight Pass preliminaries to main-card opener with the restructuring.

The final main card fight will showcase longtime veteran Jim Miller taking on former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.

There are still big names and reasons to watch, but the shocking news this morning took yet another chunk of excitement out of UFC 213.

Follow along with the Sun for a live blog of all the main card action, and look below for results from the preliminary card.

Both Travis Browne and Oleksiy Oleinik had each other in trouble throughout the nine minutes of their heavyweight bout. It was Oleinik who finished the job by forcing Browne to tap out at 3:43 of the second round.

Chad Laprise stopped Brian Camozzi via TKO at 1:27 of the third round in a welterweight bout. Laprise caught Camozzi with a combination on the feet, and finished with ground and pound.

Thiago Santos defeated Gerald Meerschaert via TKO at 2:04 of the second round. It was lopsided from the beginning, making it a big win for Santos considering the fight was considered evenly matched.

Belal Muhammad outlasted Jordan Mein in a welterweight bout to win a unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28). Mein caught Muhammad a few times in the first round, but couldn't maintain his success later into the fight.

In the first of two fights to start UFC 213 between promotional newcomers, Cody Stamman beat Terrion Ware by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) in a featherweight bout. Stamman said after the crowd-pleasing fight that included a few big exchanges that he planned to move to his natural bantamweight class.

Trevin Giles knocked out James Bochnovic at 2:54 of the second round in a light heavyweight bout. Bochnovic took a particular amount of punishment from Giles' punches, and had to be taken out of the octagon on a stretcher.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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