Yoel Romero is in talks to get a title shot against Israel Adesanya. At face value, it seems counter-intuitive. Yoel has lost two consecutive fights, and three of his last four. His last loss was to Paulo Costa, the man many assumed was next in line for a title shot.
But it’s always been complicated with Yoel. Aside from an aberrative knockout loss to journeyman Rafael Feijao, Romero’s resume is, more or less, prestine. His loss to Feijao was his first, and would remain his only loss for nearly six years until he fought Robert Whittaker for the interim middleweight belt at UFC 213 in 2017.
Romero vs. Whittaker was a great fight, and a close fight. The judges and media were in agreement on the scorecards: 48-47, Whittaker. The fourth round was pivotal: Romero spent much of the round controlling Whittaker on the ground and against the fence. But a late round knockdown ensured that the round would be scored in favor of Whittaker. Ultimately, no one left that fight thinking that Romero was washed. Romero was still a legitimate title contender.
After narrowly losing to Whittaker, Yoel went and permanently damaged Luke Rockhold, setting him up to face Whittaker yet again at UFC 225, this time for the undisputed middleweight title.
The rematch was an instant classic: one of the most violent title fights in UFC history, with one of the most controversial results. A majority of media members either scored the fight as a draw, or had Romero winning. I personally scored the fight 47-46 for Romero, but I could also see the argument for a draw. I do not think Whittaker won, but then again, this is the toughest type of fight to judge: a back and forth war where both men had their moments, seemingly in every round.
Not all losses are equal.
Romero’s next fight was also mired in controversy. There was a solid consensus on Rounds 1 and 3: Costa won the first one, and Romero won the third. The second round was the only potential swing round. The judges all gave it to Costa. Media members and fans, however, were divided.
I personally lean towards a draw, with Costa winning the first two rounds and Romero getting a 10-8 in the third. If you want to convince someone that the scoring system needs to be seriously revamped, this is the fight to show them. If people were judging this fight as a whole rather than by round, it is hard not to score it for Romero, who finished the fight with a dominant round dishing out a ton of damage while his opponent was reeling. Even with the flawed 10-point-must system that we have, for some reason, judges are reluctant to give this man a 10-8.
But I cannot fault the judges too much; Romero is just hard to score. He is clearly comfortable moving backwards (which judges don’t like to see, even though it shouldn’t matter), and he is comfortable with his back against the fence.
And when it comes to striking exchanges, his approach is not unlike that of Deontay Wilder, in that he is looking to land that big punishing blow. When you fight with regal indolence to the existence of scorecards, it is hard to win on the scorecards.
Moreover, the more you think about it, the more you begin to consider that maybe there is something to the idea of Romero permanently breaking his opponents. Costa will be shelved for quite a while after fighting Yoel. Meanwhile, Yoel is good to go for another fight, right now.
His four opponents before Costa are a combined 5-9 since fighting him. All of these fighters were champions, former champions, or serious title contenders. Yoel Romero broke them. Yoel Romero is not human.
So we have established that Romero’s “losing streak” is quite misleading. But what about the other deserving contenders? Well, Adesanya has already beaten Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum. Darren Till only has one win in this weight division so far. The aforementioned Paulo Costa is sidelined with injuries. Jared Cannonier makes sense, but Cannonier has neither the resume nor the raw appeal of Romero. Moreover, Cannonier is 35. He has time. Romero is 42 years old; he needs to be booked in a fun fight as soon as possible before we lose him forever. Yoel, always the wordsmith, says it better than I ever could: