Enigmatic Yoel Romero Makes a Mess of UFC 225 by Missing Weight and Losing

Jeremy Botter@jeremybotterMMA Senior WriterJune 10, 2018

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JUNE 09:  (L-R) Robert Whittaker of New Zealand punches Yoel Romero of Cuba in their middleweight fight during the UFC 225 event at the United Center on June 9, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Back in February, I wrote a story describing Yoel Romero as one of the most terrifying fighters in the history of mixed martial arts.

Romero had just flattened Luke Rockhold in the UFC 221 main event. He won in the way he often wins, which is to say he looked bored and perhaps just a little bit sleepy right up until the moment he turned into Incredible Hulk Romero and left Rockhold on the canvas, trying to claw his way back to consciousness.

Outside of Francis Ngannou, Romero is probably the scariest fighter on the UFC roster. Maybe some of that is due to his quirkiness and unpredictability, both inside the Octagon and out. But a lot of it is due to sheer athleticism and the fact that he can be utterly docile one second and a raging force of nature the next.

The Rockhold fight was supposed to be for the UFC interim middleweight championship. But Romero missed weight, which was both surprising and not surprising at the same time. Romero has a history of strange behavior, and missing weight for a championship fight felt like something that was right in his wheelhouse. But then, it was a championship fight; fighters just don't miss weight for title fights. No UFC fighter had missed weight for a title fight since Travis Lutter at UFC 67 nearly 11 years ago. And no fighter has ever missed weight for two title fights.

But then, there is no other fighter quite like Romero.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JUNE 09:  (L-R) Yoel Romero of Cuba throws an elbow against Robert Whittaker of New Zealand in their middleweight fight during the UFC 225 event at the United Center on June 9, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Romero weighed in at 185.2 for his middleweight title main event against Robert Whittaker at UFC 225, stripping the bout of its championship implications and proving yet again that Romero isn't quite the professional he should be. The fight became a non-title main event, which meant Whittaker, plagued by injuries and thankful to return to the Octagon, lost an opportunity to notch his first UFC title defense.

All of that marred one of the best fights of the year, a scintillating five-round bout that started off slowly and finished with blood and frenzy.

Whittaker won the fight by split decision, beating Romero for the second time in as many outings. All of 27 years old, Whittaker has mostly solidified himself as the best fighter in a division that has been defined by chaos ever since Anderson Silva's downward spiral began. But on this night, Whittaker's win was more about survival; he was lucky to see the end of the fight.

And because it wasn't a title fight, the UFC should be extra grateful that Whittaker ended up beating Romero. Because a Romero win? That's a result that would have done immense harm to the middleweight division. Whittaker would still have the belt, making him something of a lame duck champion.

Instead, Whittaker has the win and the belt, though neither seemed a sure thing as the fight came to its conclusion.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JUNE 09:  (L-R) Robert Whittaker of New Zealand celebrates after defeating Yoel Romero of Cuba by split decision in their middleweight fight during the UFC 225 event at the United Center on June 9, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

The third round was one of the best of the year. Throughout his career, Romero has displayed a penchant for acting lackadaisical and weird in the first two rounds of his fights before exploding into a terrifying mauling machine in the third. Nobody should be surprised that it happened again here; Romero sprang to life and hurt Whittaker badly, nearly finishing him just as he did Rockhold earlier this year. Romero is calculating with his strikes, and when he lands one, it hurts. Badly.

But Whittaker survived.

If Romero had won, he would have a win over the champion. Great. But the UFC wouldn't have been able to book him into another title fight immediately because he's already missed weight for two title fights. No promoter in their right mind would have enough trust in Romero to put him back in a title fight. So you'd have a situation where the champion isn't taken seriously because he just lost a fight, and you can't book him against the guy that beat him because the guy that beat him can't get his act together and make weight like a professional athlete.

I'm hesitant to throw fighters under the bus for missing weight. Yes, it's their job to make weight. But the truth is that weight cutting is dangerous and archaic and should be banished from the sport sooner than later. Fighters should fight at the same weight they walk around at. The whole notion of cutting 30-40 pounds just so you can have a size advantage over your opponent is ludicrous. It is long past time for the powers that be to come to their senses on this issue.

John Locher/Associated Press

But it's the system we have now, and most fighters are able to operate in it. Judging by recent history, Romero has difficulty with the concept. Then again, he has constantly teetered in that narrow gray area between outright cheating and slightly questionable behavior.

UFC President Dana White said this week that he'd like to see Romero move up to light heavyweight to face Alexander Gustafsson; the winner would receive a light heavyweight title shot. In response, Romero threw cold water on the idea. But there are only two options for Romero at this point: move up to light heavyweight or take up a long and painful residence outside the championship bubble at middleweight.

Because, sure, his performances in the Octagon have earned him a place in rarified air. He is a spectacular and violent fighter, the kind that makes you sit on the edge of your seat and hold your breath. But the things that happen outside the cage matter just as much as the actual fighting, and that's where Romero has continually failed in spectacular fashion.

And until he figures that part of the equation out, he shouldn't be anywhere near championship fights and the championship fighters who serve as shining examples of what a true professional athlete looks like.