UFC 248: Yoel Romero may not be a superhero, but opponents are never the same after facing him

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Contrary to what your eyes might tell you during his fights, Yoel Romero is quite adamant that he is, indeed, of this planet.  

A genetic freak and tireless worker, the former Cuban Olympic silver medalist in wrestling has evolved into quite possibly the most dangerous finisher in the sport. With a 5-foot-10 inch frame that appears as if he was cut out of granite, Romero (13-4) exudes an almost superhuman mixture of power and speed that belie his 42 years of age. 

“No, no, I am not Superman, there is no such thing,” Romero told CBS Sports during Thursday’s media day. “I am human. I am a man and a man of God.”

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The reality is Romero, who gets his fourth (and likely last) shot at the middleweight title on Saturday at UFC 248 when he challenges Israel Adesanya (18-0), might better be compared to an act of God when one takes stock of what he has left behind inside the cage. 

It may feel cliche to proclaim that opponents are simply never the same after facing Romero. Yet, win or lose, the facts seem to back it up. 

Unbeaten Paulo Costa paid the price following a disputed decision win over Romero last August with a biceps injury that will sideline him for eight months and cost him Saturday’s title shot inside T-Mobile Arena. That’s only the beginning, however. Of the nine opponents Romero faced in UFC before Costa, seven of them went on to suffer a knockout defeat in their next fight and four were sidelined between 16 and 28 months of action before their next fight. 

Romero is such a rock-solid specimen that an almost mythological reputation has emerged that opponents take more damage while landing strikes on him than he does on the receiving end. 

“Never the same? That’s what they are saying. It looks like that’s the truth,” Romero said. “Because of the impact to fight against me, they stay away from the Octagon for about a year after they face me.”

That doesn’t mean Romero is always victorious, however. In fact, he enters this weekend having lost three of his last four, although each time the decisions were heavily disputed. 

The reason for that might be the willingness Romero has shown for abandoning his wrestling pedigree in favor of an explosive, head-hunting style of striking that often limits his output over the championship rounds due to how taxing the attempts are on his stamina. 

Asked whether he would look to wrestle Adesanya, whose ground game might be his lone weakness, Romero quickly countered, “You are going to see MMA, mixed martial arts.” Pressed as to why that’s the case — and why judges haven’t always given him the benefit of the doubt — Romero could only smile. 

“Good question. You need to ask the judges,” Romero said. “I might be staying away from wrestling because I like my striking. I like the way my striking feels. If I see an opportunity, I may go for wrestling but I’m going to use my striking as I see fit. I don’t want to go to a decision. I don’t want to leave it in the hands of the judges.” 

Romero admitted he believes Adesanya’s style leaves him vulnerable to be finished but declined to expand on it by saying, “No, I can’t. I would like to but I don’t want to,” Romero said. “Everything is possible but everything is not convenient.”

If Romero was leery about sharing any secrets as to how he will beat Adesanya, he had even less to share as reasons why he has been able to sustain his incredible skill set so late into his career. 

“There are no secrets. God gives you the talent and you have to take care of polishing that talent,” Romero said. “You have to take care of yourself and you have to be disciplined. You have to realize that you are an athlete and a professional and you are not a normal person.”

Normal is something Romero will never be confused with. What remains unknown is whether he can leave Las Vegas having finally fulfilled his bright potential in what should be his final shot at a UFC championship. 

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