With Yoel Romero fighting Robert Whittaker at UFC 213 on the 8th of July, we will potentially be seeing the making of the next Middleweight Champion. With both fighters boasting impressive win streaks, an interim title on the line and the chance to fight George Saint-Pierre and current Champ Michael Bisping, everything is on the line. Let’s take a closer look at the “Soldier of God” Yoel Romero.
As someone who appreciates wrestling, I cannot overlook Romero. The Olympic silver medalist, despite being forty years old, is dangerous, crafty and one of the most entertaining active middleweight fighters in the UFC today. His relaxed demeanor in the ring is contrasted dramatically not only by his freakish build and athleticism, but also his capability to inflict shocking scenes of violence on his opponents.
With 11 of his 13 wins in Mixed Martial Arts coming via TKO or KO finishes, Romero has put some considerable pain into his opponents’ life experiences. Most recently he finished former Champion Chris Weidman with a devastating flying knee that took him, and the entire audience by surprise. His athleticism enables him to perform seemingly impossible feats of agility and strength, both with his striking and wrestling.
“You need to have an open mind,” Romero is quoted as saying in his latest promotion for his upcoming bout, “if the forecast is sunny, and it starts to rain, what will you do?” This seems to reflect his deep understanding of a fight. Everyone has a game plan until they get punched in the face. Romero understands this; he is unpredictable, explosive and just downright intimidating, often entering the octagon performing back flips and freakish displays of athleticism once the doors close. His ability to improvise and chain his offensive and defensive sequences together reflects his open mind as he constantly looks to take the upper hand during any exchange.
This mentality really resounds with me as I see this as a similar thread that can be found within all the grappling arts; work with what your opponent gives you. Whether it is Wrestling, Judo or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, we constantly look to capitalize on the errors our opponents make or exploit weaknesses in defense or attack. The Cuban wrestler has been around long enough to understand this with his proven 34-11 Olympic and World Championship freestyle wrestling record (Romero won Silver at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, putting an exclamation mark on a career filled with golden accolades).
Romero is also a man of faith. I find this interesting as many of the greatest athletes in the world (past and present) have a deep faith in a power greater than themselves. I often wonder how this influences their mentality and the weight of their faith in their successes. “A man can prepare himself for war with shields and horses, but God grants the victory.” These were Romero’s own words when discussing his belief. Regardless of our own views on religious faith, we have no choice to tip our hats to the great men and woman in this world who stand for their beliefs.
I find it extremely inspirational that a man with such phenomenal physical talents and abilities, who has had to grind relentlessly for years to achieve athletic renown; sacrificing his body and putting his life on the line to participate in combat sports, can step outside of his own ego (and his perception of himself as a champion, a winner and a physically dominant man) to acknowledge that there may be some power that is greater than himself or any of us.
It remains to be seen whether Romero will be able to showcase his unique talents and climb to the top of the middleweight roster. This weekend will undoubtedly add another chapter to Romero’s story, in his mind God will be the author of this. However we cannot discount the talents and determination of his opponent in Robert Whittaker. As the trajectories of these two men intersect this weekend we will look on as two artists, well versed in the art of violence, look to make their argument for why they are the master.