A Look at How Wrestling Propelled Yoel Romero into the UFC Spotlight | Smark Out Moment

A Look at How Wrestling Propelled Yoel Romero into the UFC Spotlight

Posted by Kay Fabe Markjobber Monday, March 22, 2021

It was back in the spring of 1977 that Yoel Romero was born in Pinar del Río, Cuba. A mere 22 years later, the Cuban became a wrestling world champion. The start of 1999 saw Romero's stock rise higher than ever, as the 22-year-old managed to claim a gold medal at the World Wrestling Championships after beating Khadzhimurad Magomedov of Russia. This was the start of a journey that would eventually take Romero to the UFC in 2013. However, if it hadn't been for Romero's work on the wrestling mat, his reputation as one of UFC's strongest fighters would never have been established.

Romero Breaks New Ground in the 90s

The early 90s saw Yoel Romero perfect the art of freestyle wrestling to compete for Olympic gold. So, the signs were there that the Cuban was a major contender at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Indeed, it was just the year before during the World Wrestling Championships in 1999 that Romero was able to win gold after beating the 1996 champion, Khadzhimurad Magomedov. It did seem for all intents and purposes that Cuba was guaranteed a gold medal the following year Down Under.

In a cruel twist of fate, it ended up being heartbreak for the country as Adam Saitiev of Russia beat Romero in the final to claim the gold. That was as close as Romero would come after finishing just outside of the medals in fourth place at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. The Cuban wouldn't appear in another Olympic Games which has earned him the tag of UFC's greatest athlete to have never won a gold medal. Perhaps it was a case of not having the temperament for the big occasion instead of the skill, given that he won a combined seven gold medals at the Pan American Championships and World Championships, respectively.

Romero relocated to Germany in 2007 and join Ringer-Bundesliga, a professional wrestling league in Germany that would prepare him for his 2009 MMA debut. During this time, Romero was trained by Sergej Kuftin and Zike Simic who were skilled in combat sambo and kickboxing. Slowly but surely, the Cuban was integrating his professional freestyle wrestling skills with an MMA style. But the results would be devastating. After a jaunt into the now-defunct Strikeforce in 2011, he lost his debut match and sustained a severe injury to the neck which put him out of action until 2013.

Close for the Cuban but No Cigar

Finally, Romero was given his chance in the Ultimate Fighting Championship and took it with both hands when he recorded a first-round knockout against Clifford Starks on April 20, 2013. It was enough for the Cuban to win Knockout of the Night honours and it immediately gave him an identity in the UFC.

Of course, it was an explosive start to say the very least and the fight reviews of the night that followed were fuelled by the narrative of Romero's wrestling background. But it soon became clear that, in actual fact, Romero would bring very little of his freestyle wrestling technique to the octagon and instead use his raw power to overcome his opponents. Indeed, anyone hoping he would become WWE's Kurt Angle of the octagon was going to be disappointed.

That's not to say that he was without any real strategy when fighting. Rather than utilizing his wrestling pedigree, the Cuban relied on his punching which was generally considered his greatest attribute. The vast majority of his victories came by way of knockout or technical knockout against various opponents. That was largely evident over the next few years as Romero racked up an 8-0 UFC record which included a memorable night during UFC 205 when he knocked Chris Weidman out with an extraordinary flying knee.

It was, admittedly, quite slow going after that in terms of success in the octagon. A mixture of injury that ruled him out of UFC 219 in early 2018, and then some unfavourable scoring from the judges stopped his momentum dead in its tracks. To add insult to injury, Romero's next five fights from July 2017 would see the Cuban only win once which saw him cut from the UFC roster in 2020. Apparently, this cut was one of potentially 60 and was understandably a real shock for many UFC fans.

There's Life in the Old Warhorse yet

It did seem like a premature exit from the UFC which sadly meant Romero wouldn't go on enjoying the riches or endorsements that a prolonged career in the octagon brings with it. For example, he missed out on the lucrative deals that global UFC stars like Conor McGregor enjoys with international clothing and footwear giant Reebok. But what is promising for Romero's fans is that he plans on still being very much active. In October, the Cuban will fight in the Light Heavyweight Grand Prix, where he is one of the leading favourites to win. That's right, as of the 12th of March, Betway has priced the 43-year-old competitor at odds of 4.50 to triumph in the end-of-year showdown.

What's more astounding is that by the time the tournament starts, he will be 44. This extraordinary athlete is proving that age is just a number and his stats at ESPN over the last decade back that up. In reality, Yoel Romero has done extremely well for himself and ultimately carved out a career that will be remembered more for its moments of sheer power rather than accolades. From the wrestling gyms of Pinar del Río to the bright lights of the UFC, it's been an extraordinary career that isn't over just yet.


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