Robert Whittaker (Mike Sloan/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC 225 Preview and Predictions

One of the most anticipated fight cards in recent history is finally here. UFC 225 lands at the United Center in Chicago on Saturday, June 9, with an absolutely stacked lineup.

The headliner is a rematch between hard-hitting Cuban wrestler Yoel Romero and UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker. The build-up for this bout has been a long, winding road. Whittaker and Romero last met at UFC 213 in July 2017 for the interim middleweight title, while then-champ Michael Bisping was waiting for a big-money fight. After five rounds, Whittaker edged Romero by one round on the judges’ scorecards, but he was then sidelined for the remainder of the year with an injury. Bisping, meanwhile, finally lost his title to Georges St-Pierre in November, but the former welterweight champ GSP vacated the belt due to illness. Whittaker was then promoted to the undisputed champ, but the story does not end there.

In February, Whittaker was set to defend his title against American Luke Rockhold on his home turf in Australia. However, due to a nasty staph infection, the champ had to pull out on a few weeks’ notice and was replaced by Romero in a fight for the interim strap. The Cuban knocked out Rockhold in the third round. However, Romero had missed weight and was not able to claim the belt. Now, Whittaker and Romero meet again, only this time it’s for the undisputed UFC middleweight title.


Another highly anticipated match-up will serve as the co-main event. Colby Covington faces former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos for the interim welterweight title. With champ Tyron Woodley having not seen the inside of the Octagon since what was arguably the most boring title defense in MMA history last July, the promotion put together a match-up with another great story.

In October, Covington became the biggest heel in the sport, even surpassing Conor McGregor by many standards. After the outspoken former NCAA Division I wrestler beat Demian Maia in Brazil, he decided to call the entire South American nation “filthy animals” on their own land. Meanwhile, the Brazilian dos Anjos was busy tearing through his newfound division. He capped off his run with a title-eliminator win over former champ Robbie Lawler in December. With bad blood between Covington and just about every Brazilian in the world, dos Anjos is chomping at the bit to crush his opponent.

Three additional fights round out the main card. The long-awaited UFC debut of former Invicta featherweight champion Megan Anderson comes against former UFC bantamweight champ Holly Holm. In a heavyweight clash, Tai Tuivasa tangles with Andrei Arlovski. The pay-per-view opens with a welterweight showdown between the equally winless Phil “CM Punk” Brooks and Mike “The Truth” Jackson. The undercard for this event rivals many UFC Fight Night main cards.

The UFC Fight Pass prelims begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, followed by the Fox Sports 1 preliminary card at 8 p.m. ET. The action then shifts to pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET for the five-fight main card. Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Dan Kuhl get you ready for all the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Middleweight champion Robert Whittaker initially beat current challenger Yoel Romero for the interim strap in July 2017. Now, the two men meet again for the undisputed crown. What can Romero do differently to secure a victory in this rematch?

Huntemann: Romero was pretty dominant for the first round or two in his initial meeting with Whittaker. Once it became obvious that Whittaker was also fighting on one leg, it seemed like a formality that Romero was going to finish him and nab the interim belt. Miraculously, Whittaker became the much more active fighter as the fight went on and peppered Romero with hard strikes on his way to a championship win.

Theoretically, Whittaker will come into this fight with two healthy legs. However, he will also come into this fight after dealing with injuries, including a frightening staph infection. Will Whittaker have some rust for this fight? If he does, that’s a dangerous predicament to be in against someone with Romero’s skill set.

It would behoove Romero to use more of his wrestling to keep Whittaker grounded in this fight. We have seen what Whittaker can do with his hands. Romero is a dangerous knockout artist in his own right — just ask Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman — but we haven’t really seen how well Whittaker can do off his back. Romero is a former Olympic wrestler in his native Cuba. If he made more use of those skills in this fight, he would have an excellent chance to wrestle (no pun intended) the belt away from Whittaker.

Kuhl: Ring rust is a lot worse when a fighter is injured for over a year and can’t even train at all. However, if it wasn’t for the staph infection, Whittaker would have already fought a few months ago. He was deep into a camp in preparation for Rockhold, which may have been a tough fight for him. After the infection, he was back in camp training for Romero, which he has already done once. If he can keep the Cuban at bay for five rounds on one leg, he should do even better while healthy.

Whittaker has already seen what Romero was able to do in close range against most of the top guys in the division. The Cuban is capable of landing heavy shots. Whittaker knew that going into their last fight, and he knows that going into this one. Romero is a one-trick pony, but that one trick works extraordinarily well. Whittaker likes to stand and trade, and I’m not as confident that Romero will try to wrestle in this one.

My brain tells me to go with Whittaker taking this one the distance again, but my gut tells me that the “Soldier of God” is going to land a big shot to take the belt and likely set up a rubber match. With no significant height or reach advantage, Whittaker needs to be careful for the big shots.

The UFC’s interim-title spree continues in the co-headliner, where welterweights Rafael dos Anjos and Colby Covington meet in an effort to decide a short-term titleholder while Tyron Woodley is on the shelf. Who wins this fight, and is that man capable of eventually knocking Woodley off his throne?

Kuhl: Outside of the obvious problems with Covington’s insulting behavior, the 30-year-old seems to be somewhat disillusioned about his place in the division. While a win over Demian Maia might seem good on paper, he caught the aging Brazilian on the tail end of his career. Covington hasn’t beaten anybody else in the top 10.

It’s a completely different story with dos Anjos. In his final five years as a UFC lightweight, the Brazilian not only captured and defended the title while running through the who’s who of the division, but his only three losses were to current and former champs Eddie Alvarez, Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov. Since moving up to welterweight, he has gone 3-0, with wins over top-10 fighters Robbie Lawler and Neil Magny. With third-degree black belts in both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai, plus a UFC resume twice as long as Covington’s entire career, the Brazilian has a decided advantage.

Covington has been able to skate his way to the top of the division through the path of least resistance, but he has yet to prove his worth against a real top-10 welterweight who is also in his prime. In this match-up, he has likely written a check that his skills will not be able to cash.

Covington is a great wrestler, sure. However, he only has four finishes in his nine UFC fights, and he is running straight into a wood chipper with dos Anjos. He has been poking a very large hornet’s nest with his classless social-media presence, too, and dos Anjos is first in line to defend his country since Covington’s degrading comments after his last fight.

Dos Anjos takes this one with a nasty knockout, serving up a bit of poetic justice.

Huntemann: It’s not a stretch to say that Covington talked his way into a title fight on this card. As my esteemed colleague pointed out, he did beat Maia convincingly, but Maia was then beaten even more soundly by Kamaru Usman. How much is a win against Maia really worth nowadays?

Dos Anjos should be fighting the actual welterweight champion, but Woodley took time off to recover from some injuries and the UFC decided to curse us with yet another unnecessary interim title. Dos Anjos’ last performance against Lawler was one of his best. It was reminiscent of his performance against Anthony Pettis in 2015, when he pressured and battered the then-champion to win the lightweight title.

Dos Anjos will do to Covington what he did to Lawler in his last fight. If Covington utilizes his wrestling, he has a chance to grind out a close decision. However, dos Anjos is supremely motivated to capture a title in a second weight class. Even if the Brazilian won’t admit it, Covington’s impression of Conor McGregor has grated on him. Dos Anjos will batter and bully Covington to take home an interim belt and secure a future fight with Woodley, which could be an underrated classic if it happens.

Will Phil “CM Punk” Brooks finally win his first pro MMA outing when he meets Mike Jackson?

Huntemann: Here’s a better question: Who cares?

I kid, I kid. Brooks was thoroughly embarrassed in his UFC debut by Mickey Gall, and Jackson is probably the only opponent out there that makes any kind of sense for Brooks to face in his second-ever MMA fight. Jackson is known more for being a photographer and writer than a fighter, so he is just the guy to allow Brooks to get some of his confidence back.

This will not be the most exciting fight. Brooks will try to keep it on the mat early and often. If you need to take a bathroom break while watching all the action on Saturday night, this fight will probably represent your best opportunity.

Kuhl: Who cares, is right — and I am not kidding.

What is the point of putting CM Punk on the main card of a huge UFC event, but sticking Anthony Smith and Rashad Evans on the Fight Pass prelims? Does Brooks have a chance to win? Of course. Will he win? I have no clue, and in the grand scheme of the sport, not the spectacle, it makes no difference. Let’s just say that Jackson has just as good a chance as Punk, and with no significant professional history on either of them, this one is pretty much a toss-up.

Will UFC 225’s stacked lineup live up to its potential?

Kuhl: To call this card “stacked” is almost an injustice. This is practically two great cards wrapped into one. The preliminary fights include veterans Rashad Evans, Anthony Smith, Alistair Overeem, Clay Guida and Joseph Benavidez, in addition to some newcomers and top strawweight ladies Claudia Gadelha and Carla Esparza. There is no way this card does not deliver.

Huntemann: It definitely has the potential to do so. This is the first UFC card of the year that appears to justify its price tag, at least on paper. When you have fighters like Overeem, Gadelha and Ricardo Lamas competing on the prelims, it does speak to the card’s depth. We can only cross our fingers and hope the UFC doesn’t fleece us once again with a mediocre result.

Megan Anderson — do we need to know this name?

Huntemann: I guess? The UFC continues in vain to try to field a women’s featherweight division, even though it shows time and again that it actually has little interest in doing so.

Anderson, the former Invicta FC featherweight champion, is a talented and powerful striker who has won four straight fights, all by knockout. However, she didn’t exactly face a murderer’s row of opponents in Invicta, since there just aren’t that many good female featherweight fighters out there in general. If Anderson gets past Holly Holm in her UFC debut, I don’t like her chances against Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino for the UFC featherweight title. Anderson hasn’t fought in almost 18 months and has less than 10 pro fights to her credit. Cyborg’s experience, skill and power would be too much for Anderson to overcome.

Holm wins this fight. She may not have Anderson’s power, but she has more experience on the big stage and knows how to utilize her footwork and angles. Holm points her way to a decision victory and a rematch with Cyborg, which is another fight I have little interest in seeing.

Kuhl: Anderson is more than a name to know. In fact, unless you’ve been under a rock, you should already know her name. The UFC featherweight division is still lacking depth, and Anderson is an integral component to building the division.

Her experience level versus Holm’s could pose a problem in this one, but it is a much better match-up than sending Anderson straight into the Cyborg buzzsaw. Holm is likely to take this one, but keep an eye on Anderson moving forward. She’s only 28 years old and will continue to get better.

Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 225?

Kuhl: Megan Anderson. She finally gets to make her promotional debut against one of the top fighters in the organization. That being said, if she loses, then, well, it was to Holly Holm. However, if she’s victorious, she picks up a huge career-changing win and legitimizes her success in her pre-UFC career.

Huntemann: Anderson is a fine choice by my compatriot, but I’m going to go with Rafael dos Anjos. He wants to be a champion in two weight classes. The only other UFC fighters to accomplish this feat are B.J. Penn, Randy Couture and Conor McGregor. That’s pretty elite company. Even if a win over Colby Covington for an interim belt wouldn’t technically solidify dos Anjos’ place in that group, a fight for the actual title against Tyron Woodley could.

Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 225?

Huntemann: Here’s an unexpected choice: Rashad Evans.

It pains me to do so. Once upon a time, Evans was a champion and looked like a surefire bet to be the next all-time great. However, he has only won two fights in the last six years. He’s currently on a four-fight skid, ever since he lost to former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones in 2012.

Evans is now relegated to competing on the Fight Pass preliminary card against Anthony Smith. No offense to Smith, but he is a noticeable step down in competition to a fighter who once faced the likes of Jones, Lyoto Machida, Chael Sonnen, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Chuck Liddell. However, I do think Smith wins what should hopefully be Evans’ last fight. He has nothing left to prove.

Kuhl: Agreed, but not because of his opponent’s name or ranking. Evans has been offered Smith twice at 185 pounds, but he wouldn’t take the fights. Smith was emaciated at middleweight, not anywhere near 100 percent, but he was still knocking people out. Now, Smith has moved up to 205 pounds, where Evans will not be as nimble and could potentially look lethargic. Meanwhile, Smith will possibly be the best we’ve ever seen.

After a four-fight skid, Evans made a pretty bad decision to finally face Smith. It’s likely going to be ugly, with Evans moving to 0-5 in the last two and a half years, which is a very unfortunate fall from grace.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Kuhl: Mirsad Bektic and Ricardo Lamas.

Bektic’s run to the top was temporarily derailed when an extremely durable Darren Elkins came back in the third round of their battle in March 2017. Then, the Bosnian refugee was on the sidelines for the remainder of 2017. He came back with a dominant performance over Godofredo Pepey in January, though.

Lamas is a longtime veteran of the organization. He transitioned from the WEC into the UFC as part of the merger in 2011. He has fought almost every major lightweight and featherweight during his respective time in those divisions, and he even fought José Aldo for the UFC featherweight title over four years ago.

Lamas currently sits at seventh in the division, but he’s coming off a December loss to Josh Emmett. The Chicago native is looking to get back into the win column in front of his home crowd, while Bektic is out to crack the top 10. This is definitely a fight that is not to be missed.

Huntemann: That’s a quality selection, but so is the preliminary card fight between Claudia Gadelha and Carla Esparza.

The huge upset of former strawweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk by Rose Namajunas last year was the best thing that could have happened to Gadelha’s career. Why is that? Well, it was highly unlikely that Gadelha was going to get a third fight with the Polish star. Namajunas’ championship victory has opened up a whole new slew of opportunities in the strawweight division. Now, Gadelha and Esparza both have a chance to make another run at the title.

Gadelha is coming off a brutal loss to probable top contender Jessica Andrade. Esparza has gone 3-1 in her last four fights. A win by either fighter would be a real feather in their cap, and it would go a long way toward determining the next contender to Namajunas’ title. There is no love lost between Gadelha and Esparza as well, which is something a good fight always needs.

Pair this card with…

Huntemann: A summer blockbuster. Much like the film industry does this time of year, the UFC is delivering UFC 225 as its summer hit. So, before you settle in for a night of great fights, begin your day by visiting your local cinema and taking in the big summer movie of your choice.

Kuhl: With the heat cranking up this summer and a card that is on fire, nothing would go better with this event than ice-cold beer. It’s going to be a long one, so stock up.

Fight Picks

Fight Huntemann’s Pick Kuhl’s Pick
Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
MW Championship: Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero Whittaker Whittaker
Interim WW Championship: Rafael dos Anjos vs. Colby Covington dos Anjos dos Anjos
Women’s FW: Holly Holm vs. Megan Anderson Holm Holm
HW: Andrei Arlovski vs. Tai Tuivasa Tuivasa Tuivasa
WW: Phil “CM Punk” Brooks vs. Mike Jackson Brooks Jackson
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
HW: Alistair Overeem vs. Curtis Blaydes Overeem Overeem
Women’s StrawW: Claudia Gadelha vs. Carla Esparza Gadelha Gadelha
FW: Mirsad Bektic vs. Ricardo Lamas Lamas Bektic
HW: Rashad Coulter vs. Chris De La Rocha Coulter Coulter
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:15 p.m. ET)
LHW: Rashad Evans vs. Anthony Smith Smith Smith
FlyW: Sergio Pettis vs. Joseph Benavidez Benavidez Benavidez
LW: Charles Oliveira vs. Clay Guida Oliveira Oliveira
FW: Mike Santiago vs. Dan Ige Santiago Ige