Australia’s UFC Middleweight world champion Robert Whittaker has earned a six-figure bonus, but copped yet another bad health break after a thrilling win over Cuban Yoel Romero in Chicago.
In front of a sellout crowd of 18,117 at the United Center, Whittaker survived a furious final round onslaught from Romero to earn a split decision in their rematch.
Two judges scored the fight 48-47 to the Sydneysider and their colleague gave it to Romero by the same score.
Whittaker clearly won the first two rounds and shaded the fourth, but was floored and clearly hurt in both the third and fifth.
Whittaker’s title was not on the line, because Romero failed to make the weight but his rotten run with injuries continued.
He has had multiple issues since suffering a knee problem in his points win over Romero in their first fight 11 months ago and hurt his hand in Chicago.
“In the first round, I busted my hand and I cannot feel it up to my elbow,” Whittaker said.
“Yoel hits like a truck and I just had to try and survive and make the comeback.
“I could have seen it going any way because it was tight, but I hit him a lot and I thought I did enough to get three of the five rounds.
“It was a really tough fight but I want to go back and talk to my team and see what we think should be next.”
UFC boss Dana White said he would see how long it took Whittaker to get healthy before any decision was made on the champion’s next fight.
“I saw him back there and his hand was swollen up, it’s huge his hand is definitely broken,” White said.
Whittaker went to hospital after the fight, but at least had the consolation of a $100,000 bonus for winning the fight of the night award.
Whittaker was the early aggressor, while Romero struggled to find his range.
Renowned for producing explosive moments, Romero floored Whittaker in the third with a massive right-hand shot and landed several other strikes, but Whittaker survived.
Whittaker reasserted himself in the fourth, but the Australian got caught a couple of times late in the round.
He got floored again in the fifth and absorbed plenty of punishment.
There was mixed fortunes for the other two Australians on the card.
Heavyweight Tai Tuivasa extended his MMA record to 10-0 and his UFC log to 3-0 with a unanimous points win over former world champion Andrei Arlovski, though he was taken beyond the first round for the first time.
UFC debutante Megan Anderson suffered a unanimous points loss in her featherweight fight against former bantamweight world champion Holly Holm.