LAS VEGAS -- Robert Whittaker wasn't about to let a leg injury get in the way of winning a title.
The New Zealander (19-4) was injured by a Yoel Romero kick in the first round of their UFC 213 main event on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena. But he persevered and took the UFC interim middleweight belt after a grueling five-round battle.
The judges' scores were 48-47 across the board.
"It hurt," said Whittaker (19-4). "But what are you going to do? I just pushed my way through and found a way to win."
Romero (13-2), an Olympic silver medalist in freestyle wrestling, dominated the first two rounds with his grappling. But as he slowed, Whittaker kicked frequently with his good leg and followed with sharp combinations. The pattern repeated for each of the final three rounds.
Whittaker won his eighth straight fight and Romero had an eight-fight win streak snapped.
Romero versus Whittaker was elevated to the main event earlier in the day after the original headliner, UFC women's bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko, was canceled after Nunes was hospitalized with an undisclosed illness.
In the co-feature bout, veteran heavyweight Alistair Overeem (43-15, one no-contest) of the Netherlands landed the hardest shots in the first two rounds. And although his opponent, Fabricio Werdum of Brazil, came on like gangbusters in the last round, it was still enough to give Overeem (21-7-1) a majority decision.
The judges' scores were 28-28 and two 29-28.
The bout was a trilogy fight; Werdum won the first bout in 2006 and Overeem the rematch in 2011.
"He's one of the toughest foes I've ever faced, but tonight I was a little bit better," Overeem said after his sixth win in his past seven fights.
Curtis Blaydes (7-1. one NC) of Chicago didn't win many fans during his victory over Daniel Omielanczuk (19-8-1, one NC) as he stuck with a plodding, grappling style that left the crowd restless. But there's no doubt it was effective, as Blaydes cruised to a unanimous decision with 30-27 scores from all three judges in the heavyweight bout.
"I am always happy to get the win," Blaydes said. "I was a little disappointed by the fight. I felt I could've done a better job."
Former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis (20-6) of Milwaukee had a successful return to the division after a two-fight stint at featherweight.
Pettis used his trademark lighting-quick, varied striking game to slow down Jim Miller (28-10, one NC). Miller displayed toughness but couldn't turn the fight in his favor, as Pettis took across-the-board 30-27 scores for a unanimous decision.
Rob Font (13-2) of Boston had his biggest career win to date, rolling over Brazilian Douglas Silva de Andrade (24-2, one NC) in a bantamweight bout.
Font used a forward-moving offense to pressure his opponent before finishing him in the second with a guillotine choke. The time of the stoppage was 4:36.
"Another fight, another finish and I got to show off striking and wrestling in this one," Font said. "I wanted to show that I'm a well-rounded fighter."
In the main preliminary bout, Travis Browne's career freefall continued. The Hawaiian heavyweight, best known as the fiancee of former women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, was submitted via choke at 3:44 of the second round by 40-year-old Russian Oleksiy Oliynyk (52-10-1), his 43rd career submission win. It was the fourth straight loss for Browne (18-7-1) and fifth in his past six fights.
"This is the biggest win of my career so I feel amazing," Oliynyk said. "I am thankful to all the fans around the world for supporting me. This is a great moment."