UFC 248 comes to T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas Saturday with a sensational middleweight championship fight between Israel Adesanya and Yoel Romero in the main event.
Adesanya is looking for his first title defense after turning his interim championship into a real belt with a knockout win over Robert Whittaker at UFC 243. Standing in his way is a multi-time title challenger who has come up short a few times in title fights, whether it be on the scales or in the cage.
Romero was denied a title shot when he missed weight against Luke Rockhold for the interim belt. He was disappointed again when he missed weight and lost a split-decision to Whittaker.
Now, the 42-year-old gets another crack at gold against the undefeated Adesanya.
The women's strawweight division also has a belt on the line. Weili Zhang will attempt to make her first title defense against Joanna Jedrzejczyk in the co-main event.
UFC 248 Fight Card
Main Card (ESPN+ PPV, 10 p.m. ET)
- Israel Adesanya (c) -280 vs. Yoel Romero +230 (middleweight championship)
- Weili Zhang (c) -190 vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk +160 (women's strawweight championship)
- Beneil Dariush -170 vs. Drakkar Klose +140
- Li Jingliang -180 vs. Neil Magny +150
- Alex Oliveira -150 vs. Max Griffin +120
Preliminaries (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET)
- Sean O'Malley -350 vs. Jose Quinonez +275
- Mark Madsen -220 vs. Austin Hubbard +180
- Rodolfo Vieira -850 vs. Saparbek Safarov +550
- Deron Winn -150 vs. Gerald Meerschaert +120
Early Prelims (ESPN+, 6:15 p.m. ET)
- Polyana Viana -120 vs. Emily Whitmire -110
- Jamall Emmers -165 vs. Giga Chikadze +135
- Danaa Batgerel -145 vs. Guido Cannetti +115
Odds via Caesars Palace.
Adesanya Embraces Challenge of Facing Romero
Yoel Romero is a mountainous man. Win or lose, you can't help but marvel at his size for a middleweight. Once you see him move and how quickly he can cover distance it's even scarier.
That's the reason—as Adesanya has pointed out—he isn't a popular candidate for callouts. He's lost three of his last four, but given that each was a Fight of the Night, they didn't come without repercussions.
It's Romero's reputation within the division that made Adesanya want to call him out for his first defense.
"Pretty much, he's a guy no one wants to fight, so that makes me want to fight him even more," he said, per Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports. "I want to know, Why is everyone so scared of this human? He is human. At the end of the day, he's just another guy who bleeds if you cut him. He sweats. He gasses out. I don't gas out."
With Adesanya's advanced striking, the obvious stylistic kryptonite is a powerful wrestler. The champ's slight, lanky build opens questions as to how he will deal with bigger, stronger opponents, but he's answered those thus far.
Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum both posed similar questions with their ability to fight in the clinch, but Adesanya's Fight IQ and quickness was enough to get him through both fights.
Romero is an exceptional wrestler, but he's also not the type to fight a slow, slogging bout that could wear his opponent down. Instead, he's a burst fighter who will look to score a takedown and do some damage, but not hold him there.
It's much more likely this fight occurs on the feet. Romero's power is a force to be reckoned with, but Adesanya's timing and creativity should be enough to keep the advantage, especially as the fight wears on.
Prediction: Adesanya via decision.
Jedrzejczyk Confident She's a Different Level Than Zhang Has Seen
Weili Zhang is one of the least-known champions in UFC history. The new women's strawweight titleholder has fought on just one pay-per-view main card. The rest of her UFC encounters have been on ESPN+ prelims or aired in the morning in America due to fights in China.
That will change on Saturday night as her first title defense serves as the co-main event.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk is used to the limelight from her days as the strawweight champion. Joanna Violence has been in the co-main event several times and has been successful in doing so.
Zhang's ascent up the rankings has been impressive. After losing her MMA debut, she has reeled off 20 wins in a row. The most impressive of which was a first-round knockout of Jessica Andrade to win the title.
However, the challenger isn't buying Zhang's status as an untouchable champion.
"I think that Jessica Andrade was not in her best shape when she faced Weili Zhang," Jedrzejczyk said after giving props to the champion's record, per Damon Martin of MMA Fighting. She continued:
"What I heard from her camp, that they had so many problems in China with the weight cut. She couldn't be focused on the proper weight cut and rehydration and then fight. It was a totally different Jessica Andrade in the fight with Weili Zhang. Like I said, she's the champ. She's training really, really hard. But she hasn't faced someone like me yet."
The former champion's defense of Andrade in the title fight is telling. She also has a fight against her on her record. She defended her strawweight title with a unanimous decision win over the Brazilian. However, Zhang's demolition of the challenger should have her worried.
Zhang has real power, especially for the division. With Jedrzejczyk losing three of her past five bouts, she just doesn't have the edge she used to. If she can get it to the championship rounds, her experience should make things interesting.
But stealing an early round to make it interesting is going to be challenging.
Prediction: Zhang via second-round TKO.