Yoel Romero scored the biggest win of his MMA career on Saturday night, but it didn't come without some controversy.
Romero defeated Tim Kennedy via third-round TKO at UFC 178 in Las Vegas, but that stoppage came seconds after he gained more time to recover between rounds. Kennedy protested after the loss, saying that he should have been awarded the TKO victory when Romero didn’t answer the bell, but Romero’s team is confident nothing will change.
American Top Team leader Ricardo Liborio was one of Romero’s cornermen that night, and he blames the language barrier for everything that happened between the second and third rounds.
"I wasn’t inside the Octagon when it all happened. I was giving instructions outside the cage because Paulino (Hernandez), his boxing coach, doesn’t speak a single word in English. He only speaks Spanish," Liborio told MMAFighting.com. "When they said seconds out, I went back to the corner and didn’t see what happened.
"But when I was talking to Yoel, he was already back. He wasn’t out. He was talking to me. I told him ‘you have to go straight forward and win the round, you have to win the third round,’ and he said ‘I got it, coach.’"
According to Liborio, Hernandez didn’t understand what referee Big John McCarthy was asking him inside the Octagon.
"I talked to Big John after the fight," he said. "Big John said he went there and saw that there was too much vaseline on the cut. Big John asked Paulino to go there and clean it up, but Paulino doesn’t speak English, he didn’t understand what was going on, so he started to wipe his body. Yoel was sitting there, waiting for someone to clean him.
"I didn’t see anything going on there. I first heard about it when Joe Rogan asked him about it, and my Spanish isn’t that good either [laughs]. I don’t know how long did it take for the fight to restart, but Yoel wasn’t out and he never asked to stop the fight. The whole situation was a mess. Paulino never intended to win some time, and that’s not my style. I would never do something like that."
Will Nevada Athletic Commission review the result? Will the UFC book a rematch between the middleweights? Liborio is confident the result won’t be overturned, and believes Romero should get a better ranked opponent after improving to 5-0 in the UFC with another third-round finish.
"Yoel’s goal is to win the title," he said. "If the UFC thinks the rematch is interesting, Yoel would take it. But if you saw the fight, you know Yoel was winning it. I’m not taking anything away from Tim Kennedy, he’s a tough fighter, but Yoel won the fight. And it’s not a coincidence that he knocked him out in the third round. And I’m sure it would be exactly the same if they do another fight."
"I just wanna know who’s next," Liborio continued. "He’s not getting any younger, he doesn’t have much time left. That’s how I see the situation now. The UFC makes the call, but I think the next step should be a top 5 opponent. Whoever they want. There’s no easy fight in the UFC, and Yoel wants to get to the title. That’s his mission."