Robert Whittaker has earned a razor-thin decision victory over Yoel Romero in an instant classic at UFC 225 in Chicago.
In one of the most dramatic fights of the year, the 27-year-old Australian was repeatedly dropped to the canvas by his hulking Cuban rival.
In the fifth and final round in particular, Whittaker (20-4) survived an astonishing amount of punishment on his way to a split decision win.
Two of the three judges ruled that the middleweight champion had done enough to win three of the five rounds.
There will be plenty of debate about the decision because Romero (13-3) had the most significant moments of the fight and he arguably deserved a 10-8 scorecard for the fifth round.
The UFC 225 main event was a rematch of the pair’s first meeting in July last year, which the Australian won on points after a five-round war.
It was supposed to be for Whittaker’s UFC middleweight championship, but the UFC removed the title from the equation after Romero missed weight.
Few fans would have expected today’s fight to go the distance, let alone be as gruelling as their first clash.
Romero started slower this time around, perhaps in an effort to reserve some energy for the championship rounds.
If that was his plan, it worked.
Despite dropping the first two rounds to the more active Whittaker, he almost ended the fight on multiple occasions in the final three.
The heavy-handed performance confirmed his status as the most explosive athlete in the UFC.
The Sydneysider showed incredible heart and grit to hang in there, fighting his way back to his feet and returning fire.
Even though he was badly hurt more than once, Whittaker brought some levity to the situation in his post-fight speech.