Cuban UFC star Yoel Romero may have been able to pick up Olympic and world championship medals during his wrestling career, but UFC championship gold agonizingly eluded him during an eventful octagon career.
Cuban man-mountain and longtime UFC middleweight contender Yoel Romero has competed in the octagon for the final time, according to reports Stateside, ending the UFC run of one of the most intriguing, exciting, physically imposing fighters to ever set foot inside the cage.
Romero may not have been the tallest middleweight to compete in the UFC, but his presence and aura made him a formidable opponent for every man he shared the cage with throughout his career.
As a freestyle wrestler, Romero captured Olympic gold at the Sydney Games in 2000, and also claimed gold at the 1999 world championship in Ankara. He then went on to take world championship silver in 2002 and 2005 to join a collection that also included three world cup golds, five Pan-American Championship golds and a Pan-American Games gold in a stellar career on the mats.
When he transitioned to MMA and built a 5-1 record in his first two years as a professional, he was snapped up by the UFC and announced his arrival on the big stage with a big KO of Clifford Starks on his octagon debut in April 2013.
He then went on to finish Ronny Markes and Derek Brunson, both by heavy-handed stoppage, and outpointed Brad Tavares to elevate himself to the upper echelon of the UFC’s 185-pound division.
He then finished perennial contender Tim Kennedy after a thrilling, and controversial, back-and-forth bout that saw some corner shenanigans earn a gassed Romero additional time between rounds before he eventually came back to finish the US Army sniper in the final round.
He then starched former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida with brutal elbows to put himself in the mix for a title shot. A split-decision win over Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza put him one win away, and a stunning flying knee knockout of Chris Weidman at Madison Square Garden earned him a shot at the interim title held by Robert Whittaker. But his shot at gold fell short as Whittaker outpointed the Cuban over five rounds at UFC 213 in July 2017.
However, a second shot at interim gold followed in February 2018 when he took on former champion Luke Rockhold at UFC 221. This time, Romero turned up the power and demolished Rockhold in arguably the most devastating display of his UFC career. But, in a cruel twist, the title eluded him again after he had failed to make championship weight for the contest.
That proved to be Romero’s final win in the octagon, with the Cuban falling to three back-to-back decision losses. First an agonizing split-decision defeat to Whittaker for the undisputed title at UFC 225, then another loss on the cards to Paulo Costa in a back-and-forth three-round war at UFC 241.
Romero’s final fight in the UFC was, once again, for championship gold, but his last appearance in the cage was a forgettable one as he fought to a unanimous decision defeat in a disappointing title fight with Israel Adesanya at UFC 248.
He may have frustrated and infuriated at times, but his ability to produce something stunning out of nowhere made him must-see TV every time he set foot inside the octagon.
And there aren’t too many fortysomething men who are capable of producing physical feats to come remotely close to Romero’s abilities. Forget fighting, even his open workouts were enough to make your eyes pop.
Whether Romero moves on to pastures new to continue his career – Bellator or the PFL would seem to be ideal landing spots – or opts to retire remains uncertain. But one thing is for sure, the UFC just got a little less interesting with the departure of the man known as “The Soldier of God.”
To quote the man himself, I hope it’s not the end and we “See you soon, boi!”