Yoel Romero Scores Victory over Luke Rockhold Via TKO at UFC 221

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistFebruary 11, 2018

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 11:  (R-L) Yoel Romero of Cuba punches Luke Rockhold in their interim middleweight title bout during the UFC 221 event at Perth Arena on February 11, 2018 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Yoel "Soldier of God" Romero notched a big win on his quest for the middleweight title with a third-round TKO win over Luke Rockhold in the main event of UFC 221 from Perth, Australia. 

The fight kicked off at a glacial pace, with Rockhold establishing the distance and picking at Romero with leg kicks. Romero showed signs of figuring out Rockhold's timing; he had brief spurts of action in a round that would be difficult to score but probably went to the former UFC champion. 

Bloody Elbow gave the opening round to Rockhold:

Bloody Elbow @BloodyElbow

Ugly round to score probably 10-9 Rockhold, but mostly just because he didn't get hit with much. #UFC221

Romero, who looked gassed in his bout against Robert Whittaker last time out, showed some flurries in the second frame but continued to fight at a slower pace. Brett Okamoto of ESPN threw out the idea that he had simply learned from his past issues with cardio:

Brett Okamoto @bokamotoESPN

You can tell Romero learned from the Whittaker fight, about energy usage in general. He's always been good at pacing himself, but I remember he came out and did a backflip in the cage before that fight even started. He's more calm and efficient tonight.

That lesson would serve him well. The timing was right in the third round when Romero came forward with two jabs before unleashing a vicious straight left that put Rockhold on the floor. A followup uppercut would bring the fight to an abrupt end in the third frame. 

MMA writer Patrick Wyman noted the incredible power behind Romero's punches that ended the fight:

Patrick Wyman @Patrick_Wyman

I genuinely don't think I've ever heard punches make the sound that Romero's last two shots did. How can a human being do that?

The bout was originally scheduled to be a middleweight title fight between Rockhold and Whittaker, but Whittaker was forced out of the bout due to illness. Romero was then called upon to fill the vacancy in an interim title fight. 

Romero missed out on the opportunity to win some hardware in the main event, though. He weighed in at 187.7 pounds, which disqualified him from receiving the belt, but his place among the division's elite isn't changing anytime soon. 

Romero apologized for missing weight after the bout:

MMAFighting.com @MMAFighting

Romero: I’m so sorry for the weight cut being so bad for me. That was the first time in my career I couldn’t get down. #UFC221

The Cuban wrestler has plenty of impressive wins in the middleweight division, with his only loss in the last five years coming at the hands of Whittaker in a closer five-round decision for the belt. 

Although the missed weight puts a damper on the win, UFC President Dana White was understanding of the missed weight due to the short camp. 

"Romero took this fight on short notice when [Robert] Whittaker fell out, and he didn't get a full camp," White said, per Okamoto. "I appreciate him stepping up and taking the fight."

That leaves Romero challenging for the title as a real possibility, although the organization has other options. Kelvin Gastelum recently knocked out Michael Bisping, and Jacare Souza is coming off an impressive knockout win over Derek Brunson.

Because Romero's decision to take the fight on short notice was an example of him being a company man, it's likely he isn't punished for missing weight, even if he's not officially the interim champion. 

Instead, we could see Romero with the opportunity to avenge the only loss he's ever suffered in the Octagon. 

Essentially, a fight that was supposed to offer some clarity as to who will be waiting for Whittaker when he comes back from injuries has only served to limit some of the options.