Yoel Romero looked like a tank against Luke Rockhold a few weeks ago at UFC 221 in Perth, Australia, as the Cuban-born fighter torched the former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight champion with a hellacious third-round knockout.
And if it seemed as if “Soldier of God” put a little bit more power and effort into the fight-ending strike, your eyes weren’t deceiving you, as Romero says his bout against Luke was very, very personal.
To hear Romero tell it, prior to him ever being on Luke’s radar as a foe, they were actually becoming friends outside of the cage. In fact, they would hang out when the would cross paths, and a fight between them was always out of the question. But after Luke turned Judas and started criticizing him for a failed drug test things went south in a hurry.
“You remember one day when you talked to me, I said I have only one list, a blacklist? He [was] on the blacklist,” Romero said on The MMA Hour via MMA Fighting. “He knows why. He knows why. Because he talked a lot of (trash). After USADA, when that happened, when I had this problem with USADA, he talked (trash). Before USADA, before, every time when he saw me, whether (in) Vegas or when the UFC made something like the (athlete) retreat, he’d say, ‘Hey, what’s up, my man? You want to go out with me? I need a party.’ I’d say, okay, come on, let’s go, no problem,” revealed Romero.
“When I [was hanging out] with him, he was like a friend. He’d [put his arm around me] like this, ‘Yoel, what’s up?’ And every time, he asked me the big question. Every time, he asked me: ‘Hey Yoel, you want to fight with me?’ I’d say, ‘What?’ (He’d say,) ‘Yeah, so you want to fight?’ I’d say, ‘No, no, no. Wait, wait, wait, wait. That’s not the question. The question is, do you want to fight me?’ He’d say, ‘No, no, no. I don’t want to fight with you.’ So I’d say, ‘Okay, so you don’t want to fight me and I don’t want to fight you? That’s it.’”
Once Rockhold started slamming him in the media for his USADA drug test failure is when Romero felt the betrayal.
“When I had the problem with USADA, he and Michael Bisping were the two guys, the first two guys, who were talking a lot of (trash) about me. Okay, Bisping is Bisping. I don’t have a relationship, nothing (like a) relationship with this guy. But with [Rockhold]? Man, you talked like this about me? I said, okay. Because maybe he’s thinking, ‘Okay, this guy, 39 years old, the minimum (suspension) is two years out. (He’ll be) 41. Right? Bye bye, Yoel.’
Of course, Romero struck deal with USADA and was suspended six months instead of 24 after it was revealed he was a victim of a tainted supplement.
“But God is good every time, and I’m still here. And now, that’s why when the UFC called me, I said yes about the fight. That’s why I said at the (UFC 221) weigh-in, when he said, ‘I am a professional,’ I said, ‘I am a professional too. I’m still here for you. I’m coming for you. Not for the belt. I stayed here for you, because this is a big opportunity — I can fight you. Everything is because you talked so bad about me. You need to pay. You need to pay.’ That’s it.”
After cleaning Rockhold’s clock, Yoel proceeded to walk up to Luke — who was trying to regain his balance on the cage -- and gave him a kiss on the cheek which resulted in a meme frenzy -- and backlash from “The Count — and reminded him of what he had coming.
“In this moment, I said, ‘Hey, Luke. I love you,’” Romero explained. “‘I love you. You remember the time when you were staying with me, hanging out, and you said, ‘Do you want to fight me?’ I said, ‘You remember? And you see what happened after USADA? You remember? I’m still here. I love you.’ He didn’t [say] anything, because he knows. He knows.”
Michael Corleone is impressed.
Romero will now shift his focus to his upcoming rematch against 185-pound champion Robert Whittaker, which is expected to go down later this year. As for Rockhold, he may literally have some bigger fish to fry down the road.