LAS VEGAS -- Yoel Romero started Saturday night's fight against Israel Adesanya standing completely motionless, covering his face with his hands in a shell-like guard. Things didn't get any less weird as the fight wore on.
In one of the least active and most bizarre title fights in UFC history, Adesanya successfully defended his middleweight title against Romero via unanimous decision in the main event of UFC 248 at T-Mobile Arena.
The judges scored it 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46.
"I did what I had to do and picked him apart," Adesanya said. "The legs don't lie. I f---ed his leg up."
Adesanya and Romero combined for only 88 significant strikes. That total was the least in a UFC middleweight title fight since UFC 112 on April 10, 2010, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That bout, between Anderson Silva and Demian Maia, had 71 combined significant strikes.
Romero landed his best shot in the first round, a huge left that Adesanya ate. Adesanya landed leg kicks throughout, and Romero was content to shell up and launch huge left haymakers as counters. There were long periods in which no one landed anything.
Before the fourth round, referee Dan Miragliotta warned both about their timidity and urged them to pick up the pace.
When the final bell rang, Adesanya and Romero, both clearly frustrated, went chest to chest and had to be separated by Miragliotta as the crowd showered them with jeers.
The fans booed the result after booing throughout. At one point in the third round, people in the crowd started shining the flashlights on their cellphones.
"It's not the fight I wanted to have," Adesanya said at his postfight news conference. "I had a different vision for how this fight was gonna end, but it takes two to tango. I can't force a guy to fight. I can force a guy to make mistakes, which I did by exposing his legs later on. But for me, if a guy stands there for the first two minutes and has his hands up, am I supposed to risk my belt and get clipped by him?
"That was really bizarre. I might as well have just used a training dummy at my gym as my sparring partner. It was just really bizarre because I was expecting a little bit more."
Afterward, Romero said it was "my victory." The fans, who cheered him following the decision, seemed to agree. Adesanya outlanded Romero in three of the five rounds: the second, third and fourth, according to UFC Stats.
Romero expressed disappointment that he couldn't give fans an exciting fight and was critical of Adesanya for turning it into "a running match." He said every time he tried to engage Adesanya in the fight, Adesanya would "disappear."
"It's impossible to fight against a ghost," Romero said through an interpreter at his postfight news conference. "I'm gonna start training for track or cross-country because obviously [Adesanya] is a cross-country and a track star, so I need to catch up to his sport."
Romero said he wasn't frustrated about his performance but felt ashamed for the fans.
"I feel that the fight game now is whoever runs the fastest is the winner," Romero said.
Sonnen says Adesanya, Romero both to blame for lack of action
Chael Sonnen claims that both fighters should be held equally responsible for a main event fight that didn't necessarily live up to expectations at UFC 248.
The story leading into the bout was that Adesanya could have waited for top contender Paulo Costa to return from biceps surgery. Yet Adesanya chose to face Romero, who was on a two-fight losing streak, because of his reputation as one of the toughest men in UFC.
UFC president Dana White acknowledged afterward that the company should not have booked Adesanya against Romero. White said his matchmakers, Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard, told him the fight "didn't make sense," but he went ahead with it anyway.
"The matchmakers didn't love that fight and didn't want to make that fight," White said. "They did not want to make Romero vs. Adesanya. But the goofy fan in me said, 'Are you s---ting me? Come on. This will be a fun fight to do, the fact that he wants to fight a guy who nobody wants to fight.'
"Now, hindsight is 20/20. We probably shouldn't have done that fight. We probably should have waited for Costa."
White was asked if he thought Romero might work his way back to another title shot.
"A path back to the title after that performance? I mean, you're crazy even asking that question right now," White said. "He looked terrible tonight. He looked terrible. He literally gave up an opportunity tonight. Maybe he comes back in his next fight and he looks like Yoel Romero, but if he doesn't, I wouldn't expect him to fight another 10 years looking like that."
Romero landed just 40 significant strikes in the fight. Comparatively, Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk both landed 40 significant strikes in the fourth round in Saturday night's co-main event. Adesanya said Romero's bouts of no offense lulled one "into a false sense of security."
ESPN had Adesanya ranked as the No. 7 pound-for-pound MMA fighter in the world coming in. Romero was ESPN's No. 4 middleweight. This was Adesanya's first title defense since he beat Robert Whittaker to win the middleweight title at UFC 243 in October.
Adesanya (19-0) remained undefeated with the victory. The Nigerian-born New Zealand resident has won all eight of his UFC fights. Adesanya, 30, was thought to be on the verge of becoming one of UFC's big stars leading into the bout.
Romero (13-5), a freestyle wrestling silver medalist in the 2000 Olympics, has lost three straight. The 42-year-old Cuba native has not won a fight since 2018.
Adesanya is the fastest to 8-0 in modern UFC history (755 days), breaking Silva's record of 850 days. The eight-fight winning streak is the longest active streak at middleweight and is tied for the third longest in division history.
Adesanya made a disclosed guarantee of $500,000 for the fight and Romero made at least $300,000, according to purses obtained from the Nevada State Athletic Commission.