Yoel Romero started Saturday night’s fight against Israel Adesanya standing completely motionless, covering his face with his hands in a shell-like guard. Things didn’t get any less weird as the fight wore on.
In one of the least active and most bizarre title fights in UFC history, Adesanya successfully defended his middleweight title against Romero via unanimous decision in the main event of UFC 248 at T-Mobile Arena.
The judges scored it 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46.
“I did what I had to do and picked him apart,” Adesanya said. “The legs don’t lie. I f—ed his leg up.”
Adesanya and Romero combined for only 88 significant strikes. That total was the least in a UFC middleweight title fight since UFC 112 on April 10, 2010, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. That bout, between Anderson Silva and Demian Maia, had just 71 combined significant strikes.
Romero landed his best shot in the first round, a huge left that Adesanya ate. Adesanya landed leg kicks throughout, while Romero was content to shell up and launch huge left haymakers as counters. There were long periods where no one landed anything.
Before the fourth round, referee Dan Miragliotta warned both about their timidity and urged them to pick up the pace.
When the final bell rang, Adesanya and Romero, both clearly frustrated, went chest to chest and had to be separated by Miragliotta as the crowd showered them with jeers.
The fans booed the result and booed throughout. At one point in the third round, people in the crowd started shining the flashlights on their cellphones.
“As long as [the judges] didn’t listen to the crowd, I was fine,” Adesanya said.
Afterward, Romero said it was “my victory.” The fans, who cheered him afterward, seemed to agree. Adesanya did outland Romero in three of the five rounds: the second, third and fourth, according to UFC Stats.
Romero landed just 40 significant strikes in the fight. Comparatively, Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk both landed 40 significant strikes in the fourth round alone in Saturday night’s co-main event. Adesanya said Romero’s bouts of no offense lulls you “into a false sense of security.”
ESPN had Adesanya ranked as the No. 7 pound-for-pound MMA fighter in the world coming in. Romero was ESPN’s No. 4 middleweight. This was Adesanya’s first title defense after beating Robert Whittaker to win the middleweight title at UFC 243 last October.
The story leading into the bout was that Adesanya could have waited for top contender Paulo Costa to return from biceps surgery. Yet, he chose to face Romero, despite Romero entering the fight on a two-fight losing streak, because of Romero’s reputation as one of the toughest men in the UFC.
Adesanya (19-0) remained undefeated with the victory. The Nigerian-born Kiwi has won all of his eight UFC fights. Adesanya, 30, was thought to be on the verge of becoming one of the UFC’s big stars leading into the bout.
Romero (13-5) has lost three straight. The 42-year-old Cuba native has not won a fight since 2018. Romero, 42, won the wrestling silver medal in the 2000 Summer Olympics.
Adesanya is the fastest to 8-0 in modern UFC history (755 days), breaking Anderson Silva’s record of 850. The eight-fight winning streak is the longest active winning streak at middleweight and tied for the third longest in division history.
Adesanya made a disclosed guarantee of $500,000 for the fight, while Romero made at least $300,000, according to purses obtained from the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC).
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