At 40 Yoel Romero (13-2 MMA, 9-1 UFC) could be the oldest person to hold the UFC middleweight title if he’s able to beat reigning champion Robert Whittaker (19-4 MMA, 10-2 UFC) in a rematch at UFC 225 on June 9 in Chicago.
How long he’ll be able to keep fighting, that’s a question he’s not ready to answer just yet.
“Ask me after I win the title,” Romero on Monday to Joe Rogan on “JRE MMA Show.” “Because I’m sore. My body hurts. Training hurts. When you train for real, it hurts. Thirty-two years doing this.”
To be sure, Romero doesn’t look like an old fighter in the octagon. He’s known for his dynamic transitions between wrestling and striking, and of course, the explosive power in his fists. The latter helped him knock out ex-champ Luke Rockhold in an interim title bout this past month at UFC 221. Because Romero missed weight for the bout, he wasn’t eligible to win the interim belt.
But the truth is, time is not on Romero’s side when it comes to longevity.
Long before he transitioned to MMA, the Cuban-born fighter spent years on the mats as a wrestler in his native country. Through a rigorous athlete training program, he rose through the ranks to earn a silver medal in freestyle wrestling at the 2000 Summer Olympics, among other competitive accomplishments. The years of grind took their toll on Romero.
“I can’t do what I did 20 years ago,” he said.
Still, the title challenger has gotten some help on how to maximize his work in the cage. A trip to Albuquerque, N.M., put him in touch with MMA masterminds Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn. It also got him on the mats with ex-champ Jon Jones, who taught him now to marshal his energy for long fights.
“I saw something,” he said. “(Jackson and Winkeljohn) controlled my attacks – when I should attack. I learned that from Jon.”
When Romero hears from critics who question his ability to go five hard rounds, he can roll his eyes.
“I’m never worried about five rounds, because I train every day,” he said. “You have to be worried if you know you don’t have the gas in that gas tank.”
Romero is trying a second time to add a UFC title to his resume after falling short to Whittaker this past July for the then-interim title. Whittaker managed to outstrike him and fend off his wrestling attacks en route to a decision. Whittaker, who was then promoted to undisputed champ, has been sidelined since the fight due to a knee injury.
The rematch is set for UFC 225, which takes place June 9 at United Center in Chicago and airs live on pay-per-view following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.
The main thing keeping Romero in the game right now is his proximity to the belt. He also enjoys the discipline of having a purpose, of training toward a goal. The grind makes it somewhat easier to endure the pain of training as his body ages.
“When you train every day, then one day you wake up, and God, Jesus – everything hurts,” he said. “Even my toenails hurt.”
If the UFC belt is wrapped around his waist, it will be a lot easier to justify that struggle. He’ll be the champion. He’ll make more money. But he’ll also be fighting motivation.
In Cuba Romero remembers that the better you wrestled, the better fed you were. The government’s incentive system gave athletes the motivation to climb the ranks. Once they reached the top, however, it became harder to stay there.
Until Romero reaches his competitive apex in the UFC, he can put that issue on the back burner. Nothing is more important than winning the title and avenging his loss.
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Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie
Read the full article here: UFC's Yoel Romero on retirement, and learning from Jon Jones how to pace himself