The Aussie UFC invasion is finally upon us, with three local fighters competing on one of the biggest cards of the year. Robert Whittaker will look to defend his middleweight title for the first time in a rematch against Cuban wrestler Yoel Romero. Also featuring on the card will be the much anticipated debut of Megan Anderson and a massive opportunity for Tai Tuivasa against UFC legend Andre Arlovski. We preview some of the main fights in UFC 225 and give our tips below!
Australia’s first UFC champion, Robert Whittaker is looking to make his first title defence against Cuban wrestler and genetic freak Yoel Romero. Whittaker actually won the interim title against Romero last July and his first title defence was supposed to come in front of a raucous Perth crowd in February against number one contender Luke Rockhold. However a cruel combination of injuries that included a staph infection and chicken pox forced him from the card. In stepped Romero and he dispatched Rockhold with one of the most brutal finishes you will ever see, to set up this rematch. Whittaker is almost exclusively a striker, but it is his incredible takedown defence which is the key to his game. Whittaker has almost never been taken down and if he does, he has an excellent ability to force his way back to his feet. He is actually the Australian wrestling champion (turns out we have one..) and was supposed to compete in the Commonwealth games before his illness in February. On the feet Whittaker is razor fast and has excellent footwork which allows him to control range and find angles. He comes from a karate background and makes excellent use of the karateka blitz. He also has some of the best coffin nails in the business, when he has an opponent reeling he is usually able to put them away with devastating efficiency. He also has a solid chin and big gas tank, evidenced by how strong he came out in the 5th against Romero in their first fight.
At 41 years old, Yoel Romero continues to defy traditional logic and remains one of the most athletic competitors in the sport. Despite being an Olympic wrestler, Romero usually wins fights with incredible blitzes of striking violence. He is a low output striker, but that often allows him to catch opponents off guard with lightning fast flying knees or a massive overhand left. He actually hasn’t had all that much success just wrestling his opponents and surprisingly doesn’t do a lot of damage when in top position. However he is still a formidable chain wrestler and near on impossible to takedown.
Prediction: This promises to be a phenomenal fight between two of the most athletic middleweights in UFC history. The first fight was an epic contest that was poised at two rounds each going into the 5th. Whittaker dug deep in the 5th and ended up getting his hand raised. What makes this fight so interesting on the feet; is how similar these two strikers are. Both are predominantly counter punchers who are capable of incredible blitzes of violence. The Biggest take away for me from that fight was Whittaker’s ability to stuff the Romero’s takedown. That is particularly impressive considering Romero blew out Whittaker’s knee with a couple of oblique kicks in the first few minutes. The striking was surprisingly even; Whittaker certainly landed more, but Romero got in plenty of big shots. Romero was able to land a takedown and hold Whittaker down for the majority of the second round, but that may have been due to Whittaker’s injury. But interesting Whittaker ended the 5th round in mount reigning down elbows. You are never safe when fighting Romero, but I think Whittaker will look even more dominant this time out and I see him earning a late stoppage against a gassed Romero. Robert Whittaker by 4th round TKO.
After 18 months of waiting and cavalcade of suspiciously vague delays, Megan Anderson will finally make her UFC debut. Anderson won the INVICTA featherweight title in January of last year with a second round TKO of WMMA veteran Charmaine Tweet. Due to her size, she was quickly ear-marked as potential opponent for Cyborg, but for whatever reason that fight never materialized. Anderson grew up on the Gold Coast, but now fights out of Glory MMA in Kansas City under the tutelage of UFC veteran James Krause. There is limited tape available on Anderson, but she is primarily a striker who is good at using her physical gifts. She is a long, rangy and able to generate significant power. She has a particularly dangerous high kick (much like Holm). She does seem a bit sloppy and slow, but I expect to see significant technical improvements in the 18 months she has had off.
Former professional boxer, Holly Holm’s career was supposed to take off following her spectacular headkick KO of Ronda Rousey. However things haven’t gone exactly to plan and Holm is 1-4 in her last four fights. Granted her loses have come against top competition and all have been extremely close (or as close as anyone’s got to Cyborg). Holm is a patient striker, who likes to fight on the outside with a kick heavy game. She is often criticised for inactivity and a lot of her recent losses have come due to being outworked rather than out fought.
Prediction: Megan Anderson is a true featherweight and should have a significant size, strength and power advantage, while Holly Holm will clearly have the technical edge. Anderson hasn’t fought anyone near the quality of Holm and has a career loss to Cindy Dandois, one of the worst fighters to ever grace the UFC octagon. If Anderson is going to win I think she will need to crowd Holm against the cage or even work a takedown game. Unfortunately I just haven’t seen enough from Anderson to make me believe she can beat Holm. Anderson likes to be the one coming forward and pressing the action, which is just what Holm wants. I think Holm works from the outside and outpoints her way to a unanimous decision. Holly Holm by 30-27 decision.
Andre Arlovski vs Tai Tuivasa
The first of the Australian contingent to do battle is Western Sydney heavyweight Tai Tuivasa. In February, Tuivasa endeared himself to all Australian fight fans by entering the octagon to Darryl Braithwaite’s ‘Horses’, KOing his opponent in the first round and then chugging a bourbon ‘shoey’ out of a fan’s shoe. Born to an indigenous mother and a Samoan father, Tuivasa had the tough upbringing typical of Sydney’s western suburbs and he claims to have stolen his first car by the age of 7. A talented rugby league prop, Tuivasa was contracted to the Sydney City Roosters, before walking out on the club after developing a cripplingly gambling addiction. Thankfully the obviously prodigiously talented athlete has been able to focus and find success in the brutal world of cage fighting. As far as fighting style goes, Tuivasa is pretty straightforward. He likes to come forward push his opponents back against the cage and blast them with shots. He throws a nice variety of strikes against the cage, peppering the body with shots and throwing plenty of crisp elbows. His striking defence is severely lacking, but he is excellent at absorbing shots and has never been hurt in the octagon. None of his fights have gone outside the round, and his physique certainly doesn’t scream ‘good cardio’.
Tuivasa’s opponent is UFC heavyweight legend Andre Arlovski. Arlovski first won the UFC title in 2005 and has been in and around the top 10 for over15 years. In his prime Arlovski was a fearsome striking, using a combination of technical boxing, heavyweight power and strong takedown defence to lay waste to opponents. He is currently riding a two fight win streak, but neither of those performances were particularly inspiring and prior to that he lost 5 straight.
Prediction: This is an excellent match up to make a star out of Tai Tuivasa. While Arlovski is clearly the more well-rounded striker, his physical tools are significantly depleted. Arlosvki’s chin is almost completely shot and we have seen him regularly rocked and finished in recent years. That is not a good attribute when coming up against a power puncher like Tuivasa. Arlovski best chance to win will be moving around the octagon picking Tuivasa apart and trying to take him into the later rounds. But at some point Arlosvki is going to find himself up against the cage and I think Tuivasa will put him away. Tuivasa by KO at $1.55 or Tuivasa by 1st KO at $2.15 are both strong plays in my opinion, but I think the best value is the under 1.5 rounds. Tai Tuivasa by 1st round KO.
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