UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker already went five hard rounds with Yoel Romero, and he can only hope that his rival is ready to go five more.
Some seeds of doubt were planted when Romero touched upon the possibility of soon retiring during an appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience following his win over former titleholder Luke Rockhold at UFC 221. That victory put Romero into a position to rematch Whittaker on June 9 in Las Vegas (their first fight in the main event of UFC 213 last summer ended with Whittaker winning a unanimous decision), and “The Reaper” has some concerns about Romero’s mindset heading into the match.
“Just sounds to me that he’s quit,” Whittaker told Submission Radio. “I don’t think you can go into a fight with the thoughts of retirement beforehand. I think, when the time comes for me to retire personally — and this is just a personal opinion, he’s neither right nor wrong — but in my opinion, when I feel, as soon as I feel that I’ve reached the end of my road and I’ve had enough of fighting, that’s it, I’m done. I’m calling UFC next day and telling my coaches I’m done. Because you can’t go into a fight knowing you’re going to hang up the boots so to speak after it.”
Turning 41 in April, Romero didn’t start competing in MMA until 2009 after he’d wrapped up a storied international wrestling career that included a silver medal at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. He joined the UFC in 2013 and ran through the middleweight roster, going 8-0 with six knockout victories before losing to Whittaker.
Romero bounced back with a third-round KO over Rockhold in February, though that achievement was marred slightly by Romero missing weight for the contest. In Whittaker’s opinion, Rockhold shouldn’t have even stepped into the cage in the first place after seeing that Romero failed to beat the scale.
“Nah, no way. Like, why would you?” Whittaker said, when asked if he would have fought Romero under the same circumstances. “I don’t understand anyone who takes fights when their opponent doesn’t make weight. It’s like, if you rock up at 87 kilos, which is what Romero did — It was like 86 kilos or something like that — then why don’t I rock up at 95? What’s the difference?
“We’re both not making weight, we’re both not professional enough to do it, you know? And the weight cut is directly influential to the fight itself. I think not making weight is the most unprofessional thing you can do. It’s as bad as just not showing up for the fight itself. So, if you don’t make weight, I’m not fighting you. I’ll give the shot to someone else who can make the weight, who can do their freaking job.”
In actuality, Romero’s weight was closer to 85 kilograms (187.7 pounds) when he weighed in, but the fact remains that Romero did miss weight and a second shot at an interim title. However, the Cuban wrestler is now getting a chance to claim the real thing. His upcoming bout with Whittaker will be for the undisputed championship, a status that was granted to Whittaker’s title after Georges St-Pierre beat undisputed champion Michael Bisping at UFC 217 and then promptly exited the division citing health concerns.
Having defeated Romero once, and with a bad knee no less, Whittaker is confident that the rematch will go his way.
“I think it will be the exact same fight,” Whittaker said. “Yoel can’t fight me any other way. The only thing that will be different is that I’ll be better. Doing my MCL four weeks before the fight obviously affected me, affected my training and affected my cardio. So yeah, I’m gonna be fitter and I’m not gonna have a bum knee. I’m gonna have, like you said, I felt him out, so I’m gonna work on certain things that I know is going to stump him.
“I don’t think he’s at a point where he can make drastic changes. I don’t think he can change anything that will really make an impact for this next fight. But that’s all my speculation, so who knows?”