Did Israel Adesanya lose to Yoel Romero?

UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya gave a huge boost to his legacy at UFC 253 by beating Paulo Costa in dominant fashion. Costa was not able to get any offense going, and Adesanya controlled every minute of the fight. Adesanya’s feints stopped any forward pressure that Costa may have wanted to apply, and swelling and bruises appeared on Costa’s lead leg early on as a result of Adesanya’s leg kicks.

Many – myself included – thought this would be a competitive fight. We were wrong.

In retrospect, Adesanya had become criminally underrated after his fight against Yoel Romero, and this perhaps led us to collectively downplay how skilled he truly is, as well as how entertaining he is. Adesanya has a KO/TKO rate of 75 percent, and while it should be mentioned that all of his decision victories have come since signing with the UFC, his decision against Gastelum could very well have been a TKO victory.

It is certainly not the norm for Adesanya to point fight and coast to victory. That much is for sure. So this begs the question: how good is Yoel Romero? Obviously, I am being facetious with this question, but really, what was it about the soldier of God that made Adesanya fight so differently and so tentatively?

The first thing to note here are the forces that are beyond the realm of human control. Yoel’s all-natural power, coupled with his athleticism and explosiveness, is incredibly scary.

Israel himself says that when he ate Yoel’s overhand left in the first round, he was seeing double. After that moment, he was very careful about avoiding eating another.

This tentativeness was, thus, born of Israel not wanting to engage with the always dangerous Yoel at close range. This is what resulted in the horrible, horrible fight we ended up seeing.

Of course, the real question here is: who cares? If this fight had never happened, we would have all been better off for it. But it was important in one sense: it was Adesanya’s first title defence; he cannot have the long title reign he seeks, if he hadn’t won this fight. But then: did he win the fight?

A mere look at MMA statistics, which I should acknowledge are often misleading, would indicate that the fight was a bit of a crap shoot to judge. The overall statistics, which of course do not mean much (as we are meant to score the fights by round), indicate that it was close. Adesanya landed slightly more strikes than Romero (48 to 40), but Romero did land more to the head, while Adesanya’s work was mostly to the legs.

Adesanya outstruck Romero in three out of the five rounds, but to seek out the disparity between the two men we are compelled to split hairs. For example, Romero landed double the strikes of Adesanya in the first round. How many strikes do you think that was?

Four. Romero landed four strikes in the first round. Adesanya landed two.

It was less a fight and more a performance art.

Who won this bit of performance art? With such little activity, how can you say? For comparison’s sake, Justin Gaethje leads the UFC in strikes landed per minute, at 7.56. That averages out to 37.8 strikes landed per five minute round. Adesanya and Romero combined, did not come close to matching that total in any of their rounds. Judging this fight by round is like judging a Gaethje fight by minute.

Nevertheless, it has to be done. Judges are discouraged from awarding 10-10 rounds, regardless of how close the round may have been.

In Round 1, after what felt like an eternity of Romero standing like a statue and Adesanya dancing around him while neither do anything, the most exciting moment of the round (and perhaps of the entire fight) takes place: Adesanya feints a flying knee and attempts a left hook. Romero then slips and lands an overhand left that surely hurt Adesanya quite a bit.

I would have to give the first round to Romero based on landing that overhand, which was the biggest strike of the round and perhaps of the entire fight.

Early in Round 2 we get another hint as to why the fight ended up the way it did. Adesanya attempts a front kick and gets countered hard with yet another looping left hand from Romero.

Adesanya starts targeting Romero’s leg more in this round. But midway through the round, Romero off-balances Adesanya with a leg kick, grabs on to him and just unloads with heavy left hands, followed by a right upper cut. Adesanya did not enjoy this exchange, and his face showed it.

Although Adesanya outstruck Romero in this round and was on target with some nice kicks, there were two significant moments in this round and both of them belonged to Romero. So after two rounds, it’s 20-18 in favor of Romero.

Round 3 is Adesanya’s. He landed more strikes, a greater variety of strikes, and the more effective strikes, including some nice snappy kicks to the body. Romero 29-28 going into the championship rounds.

Romero finally attempts a takedown in the fourth round and got Adesanya to the mat for just a split second before the champ bounces back to his feet. This is why we don’t see Romero doing this more often. He can take down just about anybody but often has trouble keeping them there.

Adesanya continues to target Romero’s legs, and yes, a lot of these kicks are just touch-ups but he lands some nasty ones as well. Adesanya also defends yet another takedown and avoids the brunt of the damage from Yoel’s ensuing combination. This is yet another round where Izzy lands a greater quantity of strikes and the more effective strikes.

38-38 all, as we enter the decisive fifth round. Two of the actual judges had the same scorecard as me going into the fifth. So this needs to be the decisive round.

Yoel’s dangerous left hand makes another cameo, as he catches Israel’s kick and lands what surely does more than just tickle the champion. Adesanya continues to land low kicks, and while Yoel’s leg is swelling, it doesn’t seem to be affecting his footwork or mobility all that much.

One of Adesanya’s kicks that Romero manages to catch was actually a leg kick, which is exceedingly impressive. Only Yoel Romero could do something like this on a consistent basis. However, after this ankle pick, Adesanya manages to evade Yoel using the Naruto run and not suffer any damage.

Romero spends the last few seconds of the fight doing what everyone wish he had done in the 25 minutes that preceded it, and really takes the fight to Adesanya and lands (and misses) some big shots.

I actually enjoyed watching this fight live, just for the suspense factor. When you don’t know what will happen, there is an element of excitement; an element of the unknown. But watching it again was exceedingly boring.

Originally, I had scored that final round for Adesanya, but upon watching it again, I am leaning toward Yoel. He did more. He landed more strikes and didn’t seem all that affected by the accumulation of the leg kicks.

In fact, as much as Adesanya talked a big game about how he destroyed Yoel’s legs, Yoel posted a workout video the very day after the fight wherein he is jogging around and seems fine. Judging by what past opponents have said about how it feels to kick Yoel, I would venture to guess that Adesanya’s shins were probably more sore than Yoel’s calves.

And there you have it. The stupidest fight in recent memory was a robbery. Nah, just kidding; no one cares. Nobody really deserved to win the fight, which is why nobody even bothers talking about it. It happened; it was stupid. We wish it had never happened.

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