Yoel Romero (12-2) is one of the most physically gifted athletes we’ve ever seen in mixed martial arts. He’s a world-class wrestler who not only won a silver medal in the 2000 Olympics but also a five-time Pan Am Games gold medalist.
Romero wasn’t originally scheduled to be fighting on the UFC 221 card this Saturday, but a nasty staph infection forced champion Robert Whittaker from the main event slot. This left Luke Rockhold without an opponent and UFC 221 without a main event.
The Cuban wrestler stepped up to fill the slot and while this isn’t the fight we were hoping for, it’s still a great middleweight scrap.
Earlier this week we went over the top five victories of Luke Rockhold’s career. So today we’ll be taking a look back at Romero’s top five victories in MMA.
#5. Clifford Starks
Romero was a perfect 4-0 when he took a big step up in competition in 2011 to face off against former Strikeforce light heavyweight Rafael Cavalcante. Cavalcante TKO’d Romero in the second round and we didn’t see the Cuban in the cage for two years. At 35 years old, making his UFC and middleweight debut, fans didn’t know exactly what to expect.
Romero didn’t disappoint. He came out throwing hook kicks and looking incredibly light on his feet for such a large man. Three and half minutes into the fight Romero feinted and as Starks dropped his head just a bit in response, Romero threw a crushing flying knee that dropped Starks. Romero followed up with ground and pound getting the stoppage in the first.
#4. Tim Kennedy
Tim Kennedy was on a tear since joining the UFC. He had won three in a row in the organization, beating Roger Gracie, Rafael Natal, and Michael Bisping. He’d face off against Romero UFC 178 in 2014.
The first round was all Romero. He landed the bigger shots and some nice takedowns on Kennedy. Romero slowed in the second round and Kennedy was able to begin landing his kicks and a spinning back fist. Kennedy rocked Romero at the end of the round with a series of uppercuts and Romero was seemingly saved by the bell.
Going into the third, we have the infamous “stoolgate” debacle. Between the rounds, it took Romero way too long to stand up. Kennedy was calling for his opponent to get up and Joe Rogan was pointing out the ridiculousness of the situation from the commentator’s booth.
Romero eventually comes out looking exhausted and blasts Kennedy with a huge right and swarms him. Kennedy ends up with Romero on top of him landing bombs. Kennedy is obviously hurt and is leaking blood all over the mat. Referee Big John McCarthy is forced to stop the fight.
#3. Derek Brunson
Derek Brunson had rebounded from a losing streak and had won his first two fights after signing with the UFC. In his third, he’d take on Yoel Romero. Brunson came out with his typical go for broke style. He was winging bombs and caught Romero with a nasty headkick. Romero survived the kick only to be dropped by a short punch and later taken down by Brunson. Round one was all Brunson.
In the second round, Brunson hits a takedown and spends most of the round on top of Romero peppering his with shots. Romero gets back to the feet with :30 seconds left but can’t get anything going. It’s easily two rounds for Brunson at this point.
Romero comes out going for it in the third. Brunson is obviously tired and shooting lazy takedowns and throwing slow punches. Romero begins tagging him on the feet and drops him. From here, “The Soldier of God” goes on the attack. He begins with brutal ground and pound and bloodies Brunson. Brunson ends up face down just eating elbows to the body. This forces the referee to stop the bout and give Romero yet another third round finish.
#2. Lyoto Machida
Romero and Lyoto Machida squared off at UFC Fight NIght 70.The first round went as many Machida fights go. Machida was being elusive, going in and out and landing solid kicks and knees. He seemingly took the first. In the second round, Romero was timing and catching Machida leaping in with nice counter straights. Romero has some success with knees and kicks of his own and beat up Machida in the clinch. The fight 1-1 going into the third.
In the third, Romero clinches with “The Dragon” and drags him to the ground. From here, the Cuban lands hellacious elbows, putting Machida completely unconscious and taking the victory.
#1. Chris Weidman
Chris Weidman was looking to get back into the win column after losing the middleweight belt to Luke Rockhold in his previous fight. He looked good early on taking Romero down and winning the clinch battles. The second round saw Romero using his superior wrestling to both take the former champion to the ground and control him on the feet in the clinch. The round ends with Romero on top landing blows on Weidman.
Now if you’ve been paying attention, there’s a good chance I don’t even have to tell you what happens in the third round. No matter how tired or beaten Romero is, he seems to shine in the later rounds. Romero is a master of feinting the takedown and forcing his opponents to drop their hands in anticipation. This was his key to victory against Clifford Starks.
In the beginning of the last round, he was feinting the takedown, Weidman responds by dropping his head low and BOOM. Weidman leans right into a massive flying knee and it immediately knocked out.
This secured Romero a shot at the interim belt against Robert Whittaker and gave him his fifth third-round knockout in the UFC.