Yoel Romero might just be the best.
He’s got kind of a wrestling heel vibe, dominating opponents with athleticism and skill while affording himself enough “lie, cheat and steal” latitude so that you’re never surprised if his doping tests are flagged or he takes an extra minute or two on the stool between rounds.
If you like your MMA entertainment to extend beyond just fists meeting faces, you’re probably into Cuba’s predominant combat athlete.
This week, he fancied himself a matchmaker. Turned out he was a pretty good one too.
Seeing his title shot scrapped in favor of the utterly stupid Michael Bisping vs. Georges St-Pierre matchup, Romero called on the UFC to make an interim title fight between himself and the legendary Anderson Silva in an interview on the MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani. The fight, for however unlikely it would have appeared even as recently as a few weeks ago, made the weirdest kind of sense.
Silva is still among the biggest names in the sport, even as a guy who’ll be 42 next month and has one (controversial) win since 2012. He defended the middleweight title more times than anyone has defended any title between 2006 and 2013 and owns the type of highlight reel of which most athletes only dream.
Romero suggested no one else who’s any good is available to fight him, and Silva made sense based on cache and circumstance.
He was right.
A quick look at the rankings shows everyone between Romero and Silva as booked or injured, and if he wanted a fight it appeared Silva should be it. It also appeared that it should be for an interim title, because everything might as well be for an interim title the way 2017 has been shaping up. Beyond that, there are some intriguing permutations on the other side of a Romero-Silva dance.
Romero and Bisping win their bouts, they meet as planned in the most meritorious middleweight matchup possible.
Silva and Bisping win, you get a rematch of their electric 2016 scrap that easily would have been Fight of the Year if Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit weren’t so good at violence.
Romero and GSP win, and you’ve got the hulking beast Romero looking to roast his second straight all-time great as he hits 40 years old himself, an unprecedented feat that would suddenly turn his career into something pretty great itself.
Silva and GSP win and you get the superfight fans have been waiting on for a decade but which has been ever so elusive for ever so many reasons over that time. Title versus title at middleweight seems to eliminate just about every one of those reasons and make the meeting, finally, a certainty.
Only the UFC didn’t see it that way.
Despite the obvious thrills and potential for revenue such an interesting matchup would offer, the promotion pivoted from it by booking Silva into a bout with upstart contender Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 212. Gastelum has looked ferocious since his continued losses to the scale at welterweight forced him north to 185, scoring standout wins over Tim Kennedy and Vitor Belfort. He’s 4-0 as a middleweight in the UFC.
In many ways, the Gastelum fight provides a similar opportunity for the UFC to build something: A true contender scores a win over a living legend and walks out of the cage within spitting distance of a shot at Bisping or St-Pierre.
Still, the fight lacks the appeal of Romero-Silva on a broader level. There are no storylines ready to emerge from it. Nothing truly exciting.
It’s, at best, a nice win for a rising prospect who would be in the top five as opposed to undeniably next for a title fight. At worst, Silva blisters that rising prospect and creates questions about why someone so undersized is fighting among relative giants while doing little for his own legacy in the process.
It’s a booking that’s just weird instead of one that makes the weirdest kind of sense.
Even more weird is that this newfangled UFC didn’t see that. A group so in love with money should easily have seen the potential of the outcomes noted above, and it should have understood that every one of those outcomes would be bigger than anything involving Gastelum.
Yet here we are, Silva and Gastelum circling one another while Romero is left wondering why no one appreciates his brilliance—in the cage or, apparently, as a matchmaker.
One can't help but be a little befuddled by that.