Yoel Romero will indeed serve as the first title defense for UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker, if the Cuban contender is to be believed.
Speaking Monday on The MMA Hour, Romero said the UFC has already confirmed to him that he will get his championship rematch as soon as Whittaker is cleared to compete.
“I don’t have an idea (of when),” Romero told host Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “Maybe July? I don’t know when. I hear he’s sick, he’s feeling no good, he’s feeling very bad. I pray for him. I’m waiting. I’m waiting for him.”
Whittaker has been sidelined since withdrawing from a scheduled UFC 221 title defense against Luke Rockhold due to a nightmarish series of injuries and illnesses.
In Whittaker’s stead, Romero stepped in on short notice and scored a highlight-reel knockout over Rockhold to claim pole position in the middleweight division’s title hunt. Romero missed weight by 2.7 pounds at UFC 221, which rendered him unable to capture the event’s interim middleweight title, but as anticipated, it appears that Romero’s weigh-in miss will not be held against him in regards to a potential title shot.
Another thing that could’ve hurt Romero’s chances is the feared leg injury he suffered against Rockhold, but on Monday, more than a week after UFC 221, Romero brushed off any concern that an injury which ended up being a deep shin bruise would prevent him from making a quick return.
“Thank you God, (the leg is) good,” Romero said.
Romero previously lost to Whittaker via unanimous decision in July 2017 in an interim middleweight title fight at UFC 213.
A timetable for Whittaker’s return is still unclear, but the New Zealand native said earlier this month that he is hoping to defend his belt sometime mid-year.
And Romero has already pitched his dream for the rematch: If the Olympic wrestler had his druthers, the fight would take place in Romero’s adopted hometown of Miami, FL.
“This is amazing,” Romero said of the idea, which was recently proposed to the UFC by the middleweight’s team. “I think if that happens, Miami is so big, (they’ll be) happy. Everybody in Miami (would be) so happy. I want it. I want it, I want this to happen.”
Altogether, the road to Romero’s first elusive shot at the undisputed UFC title has been a crazy one — one that has sustained itself well into Romero’s four decade of life. Incredibly, implausibly, Romero will turn 41 years old this April. Somehow though, at an age where most professional fighters are either retired or have one foot firmly out the door, Romero continues to compete at a world-class level against the best athletes the middleweight division has to offer.
And “The Soldier of God” admitted that even he isn’t sure how he’s been able to do it.
“I think a lot about this,” Romero said.
“I try to stay (living) a very clean life and very quiet, but I think this is God. Believe me, I think it’s God. It’s God. But if you go to Cuba, you can see many people like me too. Normal people. Normal people, not athletes. Normal people on the street. Many people are like this. But you can look like this but you can’t fight, because it’s different. That’s why, I think, this is (because of) God.”
Romero expects those same Cuban countrymen to live vicariously through him if his chance at undisputed UFC gold finally arrives this summer.
“Cuba will [go] crazy, Miami will [go] crazy,” Romero said. “Many people in the world will be so happy, it’ll [be] crazy, believe me.
“I’m very excited, I’m very happy.”