After earning a silver medal at the Summer Olympic Games in Sydney nearly two decades ago, Yoel “Soldier of God” Romero turned from the wrestling mats to the cage, putting the fear of God into his opponents immediately.
At the ripe age of 41 years young, Romero is still considered one of the most feared men on the planet. The combination of power, speed, explosiveness and elite skill make for a figure any EA Sports game’s Create-a-fighter would deem too unrealistic.
Taking a man once considered the best wrestler in the world and giving him to the Cuban boxing team to learn how to put the lights out of anyone in front of him seems almost unfair. To put into context how elite his wrestling is, I give you this: many Americans think Cael Sanderson (Olympic Gold medalist, 159-0 in college) is the best wrestler we ever produced. Romero beat him…twice.
If the man is so good, why has he never had the UFC gold around his waist? Romero has out-wrestled All-Americans, neutralized world champion submission artists, knocked the lights out of elite strikers and kneed Chris Weidman’s head into the next dimension. The Cuban Missile Crisis has crushed almost everyone in the top 10 of the deepest Middleweight division we’ve seen, maybe ever. The answer comes in the form of timing and one bad Aussie motherfu**er named Robert Whittaker.
The crafty southpaw could end up being one of the biggest what-ifs in MMA because of how late he started. Due to his success in wrestling, Romero did not start training for Mixed Martial Arts until 10 years ago. Even crazier, he has only been in the UFC since 2013. After his debut, the Solider of God started crushing all opposition in front of him, skyrocketing up the rankings and eventually earning his spot in the top 5.
While Romero was murking top 10 fighters, the 185-pound division went through a weird stint. In April 2016, Michael Bisping took a short-notice rematch against Luke Rockhold for the UFC Middleweight strap. In a stunning upset, Bisping knocked out Rockhold in the first round to avenge his loss and gain his first UFC title. This led to a 17 month period of no Middleweight title fights, with Bisping holding the title hostage while he waited for Georges St-Pierre to return from retirement.
After knocking out former UFC Middleweight champion Chris Weidman at UFC 205 in the Madison Square Garden, Romero called out Michael Bisping for the 185-pound belt. After months of back-and-forth trash talk, Bisping stayed determined to hold out for GSP while all Romero could do was sit and wait. Then, in the summer of 2017, an unstoppable force met and immovable object for the first time. Romero was introduced to The Reaper, aka Bobby Knuckles, Robert Whittaker.
The Aussie Whittaker and Cuban Romero battled for the UFC Middleweight interim championship belt while Bisping nursed his injuries and waited for St-Pierre. The bout resulted in one of the closest fights in 2017. Romero dropped a close decision and earned the first loss in his UFC career. Whittaker displayed insane takedown defense to couple with his elite karate, nullifying Romero’s best assets.
Beating Romero gave Whitaker an automatic title shot against the winner of GSP vs. Bisping. The only problem: GSP won, relinquished the title (to potentially re-retire), and Bisping retired two weeks later. This promoted Whitaker to the undisputed Middleweight champion of the world. Luke Rockhold was given a shot to earn his title back from The Reaper, but Romero tore Whittaker’s ACL in their first war. Cue the world beater Romero stepping in to show he still deserves to be at the top.
As you can see… Rockhold didn’t enjoy the last second replacement opponent. Since Romero took several years off the life of every top 10 Middleweight (Whitaker included), the UFC knew they had to choice but make a second fight between The Cuban Missile Crisis and Bobby Knuckles.
The rematch title fight at UFC 225 in Chicago, known as Romero vs. Whitaker II, will go down as one of the greatest fights of all time. Takedowns, knockdowns, headkicks, uppercuts, zombie-like Reapers and Soldiers pushing forward until the final bell. The split decision, once again, gave Whittaker the nod two judges to one.
Even after winning two fights to none, Whittaker now claims that he hopes he never steps into the cage again with Yoel Romero. Despite winning, many think those wars have taken literal years off of his career just by having the fortitude to go 10 total rounds with the Soldier of God.
Currently, the fate of Romero is up in the air. There is speculation of moving up to the 205-pound Light Heavyweight class. Giving him a plethora of interesting match ups and an undoubted increase in power from less weight to cut. Contrary to these rumors, Romero is scheduled to fight Paulo Costa (his undefeated Brazilian freaky jacked brethren) at Middleweight in April. Whittaker will be defending his title against the challenger Kevin Gastellum on February 9th, in Melbourne, Australia.
Will Yoel Romero ever get the gold around his waist? With turning 42 in a few months and young men like Whittaker at the top, we may not ever get to see it. One thing is for certain, Romero is still one of the scariest human beings on the planet.