And the new UFC Interim Middleweight Champion is… no one, but, who cares?
Last night we saw #1 ranked middleweight Yoel “Soldier of God” Romero finish up the UFC’s first event in Perth, Western Australia, with a devastating third-round knockout of #2 ranked Luke Rockhold. This fight card did not arrive without criticism, with the original main event falling out due to champion Robert Whittaker’s health issues, fans had the impression this pay-per-view would fail to give a bang for its buck. Fortunately, the MMA Gods were on our side with the event manifesting into a night of submissions and domination which culminated in a shocking knockout in the main event.
Missing weight by 2.7 lbs on Friday, Yoel Romero was deemed ineligible to win the interim UFC middleweight belt Saturday night, but that didn’t stop him from coming out and getting the job done. With somewhat of a slow start to the bout, the respect between Romero and Rockhold was evident, both men understanding what the other is capable of doing. We didn’t get to see much of the fruits of Rockhold’s labor since his last bout in September 2017. Never getting close to Romero for too long, we did get to see a few head-turning kicks, but no apparent improvement was visible from Rockhold. Meanwhile, Yoel Romero stayed cool and collected, taking what was thrown at him and never getting too worked up to plan those perfect shots to stop the clock. Romero gave us a truly professional performance, just proving too much for former champ Rockhold.
Respect to Yoel that man is made of steel.
— Luke Rockhold (@LukeRockhold) February 11, 2018
Third round finisher
The crushing knockout over Rockhold was Romero’s sixth third-round knockout in his UFC career. Despite his multiple achievements both inside and outside of the octagon, Romero is no stranger to criticism. Be it PED claims (although proven to be untrue), sneaky tricks inside the octagon, or more recently, not making weight, not one of Romero’s achievements can be celebrated without some negativity surrounding the event. However, what Romero did last night was eliminate the only person that could stand in his way to another shot at the real middleweight gold. Despite the missed weight, Romero proved that he is willing to do whatever is needed to be the best. As per Brett Okamoto of ESPN, Dana White confirmed that Romero will be facing Robert Whittaker once he has fully recovered from his health problems.
Yes, a win for Rockhold would probably have been more productive for the UFC middleweights. With such a high-level of talent in the division, rematches are inevitable; however, a rematch between Romero and the current champ is not as predictable as some may think. With Whittaker winning by three rounds to two, Romero showed a lot of skills in his last title shot and made Whittaker really work for that middleweight belt. Now, Romero has a shot to use the momentum from this win to get his body right, make weight and compete at the highest level, for perhaps his last shot at the middleweight title.
All in all, what we saw last night was a true example of what extensive competition experience can do for you when fighting in the UFC. Mental strength and will can be a driving force when the going gets tough and Romero was the man with the most composure last night. Rockhold has taken a big hit, and this loss may be the catalyst for him to move up to the light-heavyweight division or maybe another big break. Romero won’t be taking any breaks though because, at the age of 40, he is hungry and ready to get what he believes is truly his.