Yoel Romero Is a Middleweight Title Dark Horse

Kristian IbarraFeatured ColumnistAugust 1, 2014

Nov 6, 2013; Fort Campbell, KY, USA; Yoel Romero (blue gloves) reacts to his win against Rony Markes (red gloves) in the middleweight bout during UFC Fight for the Troops at Fort Campbell. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Weidman's busy defending his title. Anderson Silva's busy preparing for his comeback. Vitor Belfort's busy brushing off his critics. Luke Rockhold's busy vying to replace Belfort as one of his biggest critics.

Meanwhile, UFC middleweight and former Olympic wrestler Yoel Romero is busy doing his own thing: training to prove that he's capable of beating anybody at 185 pounds as the division's dark-horse title contender. 

SAN JOSE, CA - FEBRUARY 15:  Yoel Romero of Cuba wrestles Semen Senenok of Belerus during the Titan Games on February 15, 2003 at the Event Center at San Jose State University in San Jose, California. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Romero spent a majority of his life as a wrestler—preparing for the 2000 Summer Olympics in freestyle competition. He made it all the way into the final match before losing to Adam Saitiev and was forced to take home the silver medal. 

After grappling for most of his life, Romero was finally able to let his hands go in 2009 when he stepped away from the wrestling mat and into the cage against Sascha Weinpolter. The fight lasted 48 seconds before Weinpolter had taken enough punishment from Romero.

Surprisingly enough, the former Olympian seemed to have more interest in striking than taking the fight to the mat. 

The Cuban native fighter would amass three more TKO victories before falling victim to a more seasoned and heavy-handed Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante. It wouldn't be too long before Romero was back to his winning ways—he authored three more TKOs in four victories after the loss to Feijao and joining the UFC. 

Yoel Romero MMA Career
April 2014Brad TavaresWinUnanimous Decision
Jan. 2014Derek BrunsonWinKO/TKO
Nov. 2013Ronny MarkesWinKO/TKO
April 2013Clifford StarksWinKO/TKO
Sept. 2011Rafael CavalcanteLossKO/TKO
May 2011Laszlo EckWinKO/TKO
March 2011Nikita PetrovsWinKO/TKO
Oct. 2010Michal FijalkaWinKO/TKO
Dec. 2009Sascha WeinpolterWinKO/TKO

Now, just three months removed from the first decision victory the 37-year-old fighter has ever seen, Romero is set to take on fellow rising middleweight Tim Kennedy.

Having already stepped into the cage with the likes of Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, Rockhold, Robbie Lawler and Michael Bisping, it's no secret that Kennedy is the more experienced cage-fighter. 

But with an impeccable wrestling pedigree and seven TKO victories in eight wins and nine total fights, experience may not matter as muchespecially considering Kennedy may likely face some issues imposing his grind-to-victory style against an elite grappler like Romero. 

Romero's here to make his way to the top. And he wants to get there fast, because sitting on the wrong side of 30 doesn't bode well for most fighters, regardless of how many fights they've had or not. 

Currently sitting outside of the UFC's top-10 middleweight ranks, Romero has a chance to make waves and seat himself closer to a title shot with a decisive victory over Kennedy, who currently sits at No. 6.

Beyond his UFC 178 matchup with Kennedy, Romero's style bodes well against most of the middleweight fighters currently sitting in the top 10. That includes the middleweight king, who may not find it as easy to outwrestle the Olympian for any portion of a five-round tilt. 


Kristian Ibarra is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He also serves as the sports editor at San Diego State University's student-run newspaper, The Daily Aztec. Follow him on Twitter at @Kristian_Ibarra for all things MMA.