Yoel Romero has established himself as one of the most feared offensive forces in mixed martial arts, with 11 of his 13 career wins coming by knockout or technical knockout. That penchant for putting opponents to sleep makes the “Soldier of God” a must-see attraction whenever he steps into the cage.
Romero will look to avenge one of his two professional losses when he challenges Robert Whittaker for the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight title at UFC 225 on June 9 in Chicago. Whittaker won the first encounter between the two, taking a five-round unanimous decision from the American Top Team star in July. Romero later bounced back, as he earned a rematch with “Bobby Knuckles” by stopping Luke Rockhold with third-round punches at UFC 221.
As Romero prepares for his showdown with Whittaker, here are five things you might not know about him.
1. He competed at the pinnacle of amateur wrestling.
Prior to his MMA debut in December 2009, Romero enjoyed a previous life as a dominant amateur wrestler. He represented Cuba at international freestyle wrestling competitions and was a onetime gold medalist at the FILA Wrestling World Championships and Pan American Games, a three-time gold medalist at the Wrestling World Cub and a five-time gold medalist at the Pan American Championships. Romero won silver at the 2000 Sumer Olympics in Sydney.
2. His transition to mixed martial arts was seamless.
Shortly after he defected to Germany in 2007, Romero began his formal MMA training under Sergej Kuftin and Zike Simic. He won his first four pro bouts while competing in various promotions in Germany and Poland. Romero disposed of Sascha Weinpolter, Michal Fijalka, Nikita Petrovs and Laszlo Eck before he suffered his first setback in a technical knockout loss to Rafael Cavalcante in Strikeforce on Sept. 10, 2011.
3. He has had brushes with PED-related controversy.
Three years after he first set foot inside the Octagon, Romero in January 2016 flunked an out-of-competition drug test administered by the United States Anti-Doping Agency. The fighter and his manager claimed that he took a contaminated supplement following his split decision win over Ronaldo Souza at UFC 194. Romero launched an appeal and later negotiated a sixth-month suspension. He returned to the cage at UFC 205 and knocked out former middleweight champion Chris Weidman with a flying knee.
4. Failure to make weight cost him a piece of the middleweight title.
Romero replaced the injured Whittaker at UFC 221, where he was pitted against Rockhold for the interim middleweight championship. Unfortunately for the “Soldier of God,” he weighed in at 188.3 pounds, overshooting the 185-pound threshold for a title fight. He was afforded two hours to shed the excess weight but failed to do so. Nevertheless, the bout proceeded, with Romero ineligible to win the championship and Rockhold getting a 30-percent cut of his opponent’s purse. The 2000 Olympic silver medalist knocked out Rockhold with a pair of left hands in the third round.
5. He often supplements his income.
Romero has bagged a total of six post-fight performance bonuses worth $300,000 in his 10 UFC appearances: one for “Knockout of the Night,” two for “Performance of the Night” and three for “Fight of the Night.”