For undefeated prospect Anthony “The Genius” Romero (7-0), competing in MMA was just the logical progression of a lifetime of martial arts.
Growing up in a small town in Ontario, Romero’s parents enrolled him taekwondo at a young age. They wanted their child to be able to defend himself should he run across a bully. Romero excelled and earned his black belt in the art at the age of 12.
After moving to karate, the pre-teen began to grow tired of katas and tornado kicks. Then he saw a fellow Canadian Patrick Cote put up a spirited fight against middleweight great Anderson Silva at UFC 90.
“I fell in love with it,” Romero recollected, “and I had to find someplace that I could train like that. So luckily enough, I found a gym here that had just opened up and I started training jiujitsu, kickboxing, Muay Thai. And I competed everywhere. I went to Brazil and Italy with the Canadian national team for kickboxing.”
These experiences evolved into “The Genius”—a moniker from an old coach for Romero’s ability to pick up new techniques so quickly—moving on to mixed martial arts. He studied Georges St-Pierre and saw the complex simplicity of his game. The idea that St-Pierre could defend his title with nothing but a jab spoke to Romero, who now takes a similar approach in his training.
“It just blows my mind that everyone wants to focus on the fancy stuff when they should be focusing on basics. A jab with a cross, just individual punches, and then putting the strategy behind that.”
COVID-19 and competing
The method has earned the Canadian seven victories in seven professional MMA bouts. He most recently earned the Ohio Combat League lightweight championship in just under a minute back in March at one of the last events held in the state before Ohio was effectively shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Since stay-at-home orders have been implemented globally, Romero is coping with the same training struggles as other athletes. His brother will hold pads for him, and he’s recently taken to teaching online classes via Zoom to keep himself and others in shape. Romero is taking the quarantine seriously and feels that staying home is necessary to protect his community.
“It’s important to stay home and not be selfish. This is about other people’s health and if we listen now, the faster this will all go away,” Romero stated.
He also understands fighters wanting to push through this and compete. For Romero, the dilemma of events happening during a global pandemic is a complicated one. He understands the health concerns, but he also recognizes that fighting and running classes are how most fighters generate income. Romero, whose entire life is focused on him getting to the biggest stage of the sport, also says that given the chance to fly to “Fight Island” to compete he would do so.
“I would be there in a heartbeat,” Romero said.
“That is my dream. I can’t say no, because then what am I? What am I doing right now? I work so hard for that. And to say no, when I get the opportunity to, would be kind of tough. And I know it goes against what I was saying earlier, but, it’s a tough thing. It’s a tough thing to balance. I would do my best to keep my health but would you die of boredom or die with something exciting?”
Fighting through disappointment
The 23-year-old was slated to go on Dana White’s Contender Series last season but an exclusive contract he had signed with King of the Cage kept him from the opportunity. Instead of bad-mouthing that promotion or letting the disappointment overcome him, Romero bit down on his mouthpiece, fought out his contract, and went on to win his next three fights. Recently, he and his management were eyeing the upcoming UFC Saskatoon card but with UFC events only happening in a limited capacity right now, so much of the future is uncertain.
Until another opportunity presents itself, Romero will continue to stay ready. Even with quarantine diet and training, Romero says he is in fight shape and could make weight on short notice. Aside from the physical aspect of the sport, he also feels the need to keep his mind sharp. He watches tape on the likes of Israel Adesanya and Khabib Nurmagomedov to not only scout new techniques but to also observe what doesn’t work.
“I like to look at why fighters have a hard time against opponents. When Khabib fought Gleison Tibau, you see how much he struggled taking him down. You have to watch a fight over and over. A lot of people think they just need to watch a fight once and think they have everything. You have to watch a fight three or four times, and pick rounds apart, pick minutes apart. There’s a lot that goes into studying tape and I think people should focus on that more.”
Stepping into the lion’s den
While it’s never an easy night at the office when one steps into a cage to compete, 155-pounds—Romero’s division—is exceptionally deep with talent. Anthony Romero will be the first to acknowledge how stacked his class is, and he believes he fits in perfectly with all the heat the UFC lightweight division has to offer.
“There are a lot of killers in that division and I understand that; I understand what I signed up for. But I’m also a killer. I’ve been finishing people, I’ve been tapping people out. I have a lot of knowledge about this sport. I’ve been doing this a long time.
“So I think—I don’t think—I know I match up very well with those guys and there’s no reason why I should shy away from that type of competition.”