It was a night of mixed results for former wrestlers at UFC 225: Whittaker vs. Romero 2 at Chicago's United Center on Saturday, with ex-mat stars Robert Whittaker, Colby Covington, and Curtis Blaydes coming out victorious ... while a trio of past wrestlers -- Yoel Romero, Rashad Evans, and Carla Esparza -- lost their bouts.
Whittaker gets split decision over Olympian Romero
In a main-event battle of two amateur wrestlers, the less experienced matman beat the Olympic medalist. Again.
Robert Whittaker, an Australian freestyle wrestler who has been competing in the sport for only about three years, "eked out" (to use a phrase from MMA website Sherdog.com) a split decision over two-time Olympic wrestling veteran (and 2000 Olympic silver medalist) Yoel Romero in the middleweight (185-pound) main event. Two officials scored the bout 48-47 for Whittaker, while the third gave it to the Cuban Olympian by the same score.
The two had fought before at UFC 213 in July 2017, with Whittaker coming out on top in a unanimous decision.
Here's how Sherdog opened its reporting of the UFC 225 main event: "Yoel Romero couldn't quite make his late-round magic happen in Chicago" going on to say, "The fight featured huge momentum swings and tremendous offensive firepower on both sides."
Robert Whittaker defeated Yoel RomeroRomero actually knocked Whittaker to the canvas in the third round of a fight slated for five rounds. Sherdog.com described the split decision as being "contentious."
Saturday's Whittaker-Romero 2 had originally been intended to be for the UFC Middleweight Title. However, at the weigh-ins, Romero initially tipped the scales at 186 pounds, 1 pound over the middleweight limit for a title fight. Romero was given additional time to make weight, but remained ever-so-slightly over at 185.2 lbs. Therefore, the bout proceeded as a non-title contest. The Cuban was fined 30 percent of his purse, which will go to Whittaker.
With the closeness of the decision -- and the bout not being for the title -- it's not impossible to imagine there's a "Whittaker vs. Romero 3" in the future.
With the win, Whittaker is now 20-4 in his MMA career, while Romero drops to 13-3.
Covington earns unanimous decision
Former collegiate wrestler Colby Covington got a hard-fought -- but unanimous -- decision over former lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos in their five-round welterweight (170-pound) co-main event. Officials scored it 49-46, 48-47, and 48-47 for Covington, a junior college champ at Iowa Central Community College who went on to become a two-time NCAA All-American at Oregon State before entering MMA.
"'Chaos' won the fight largely by outdoing dos Anjos at his own game: employing a relentless, hyper-aggressive wrestling attack against the fence in all five rounds, never appearing to allow 'RDA' space or time to breathe," reported Sherdog.com. "Despite Covington's suffocating attack, dos Anjos had his moments, particularly in Round 4, where he turned the tables and took the American down, then took a variety of dominant positions while looking for a submission."
With the win, Covington now owns a 14-1 record on six-match win streak ... and earns what is expected to be a unification bout with champion Tyron Woodley, a University of Missouri mat alum. dos Anjos, coming off a three-fight win streak, is now 28-10.
Blaydes knocks out Overeem
Curtis Blaydes, a Chicago area native who was an Illinois high school state champ and junior college titlist for Harper College, scored what MMAfighting.com described as a "violent finish" to muscular heavyweight Alistair Overeem with a TKO at 2:56 of Round Three.
"Blaydes used a nasty series of elbows to finish veteran Alistair Overeem in front of Blaydes' hometown fans," according to MMAfighting.com.
With the win -- his eighth career KO/TKO -- Blaydes improves to 10-1 (1 no-contest), while the veteran Overeem drops to 43-17, (1 no contest).
Gadelha gets split decision over Esparza
In a strawweight (115-pound) preliminary battle, Claudia Gadelha came out on top of former high school and college wrestler Carla Esparza. It was a split decision, with Gadelha earning 29-28 scores from two officials, and Esparza getting the same score from the third judge.
Esparza launched her mat career in high school in California, winning a number of regional and national titles. She earned a wrestling scholarship at Menlo College, working with recent National Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee -- and two-time Olympian -- Lee Allen.
With the win, Gadelha is now (record), while Esparza falls to (record).
Rashad Evans: gone in less than a minute
An impressive college wrestling resume -- as a junior college champ in New York State, and an NCAA All-American for Michigan State -- didn't help Rashad Evans in his preliminary heavyweight bout at UFC 225.
Anthony Smith made short work of Evans, scoring a knockout in 53 seconds of the first round.
"Smith and his prey clinched against the fence, where the Nebraskan pushed the smaller man's head down with one forearm and crushed him with a knee to the head," according to Sherdog.com.
"Evans crumpled to the ground, where Smith tagged him with a single follow-up blow before referee Dan Miragliotta could interpose himself."
With the quick win, Smith improves to 29-13, while Evans is now 19-8. The loss is Evans' fifth straight, as the former Spartan had not notched a win since defeating Chael Sonnen -- a former wrestler at the now-defunct program at University of Oregon -- in November 2013.