UFC 248’s main event continues to live on in infamy.
This past month, UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya dubbed his tepid win over Yoel Romero at the Feb. 2018 show as the lowest point in his MMA career. It was one of the most widely panned title fights in the modern era of the UFC, a 25-minute stalemate that saw Adesanya and Romero combine to throw less than 90 strikes in a painfully uneventful bout. It was made even worse because the fight that directly preceded it — Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk — is generally considered to be one of the greatest in MMA history.
During an appearance Wednesday on The MMA Hour, Romero was asked about Adesanya’s recent comments, in which “The Last Stylebender” also pinned much of the blame on Romero for the lackluster nature of the bout. And it’s safe to say Romero didn’t agree.
“It left a lot to be desired, but let’s get things straight,” Romero said through a translator. “He called me [out], right? He’s like, ‘OK, nobody wants to face the beast. I want to face the beast. Not only do I want to face the beast, I want retire him.’ And then I got excited. I was like OK, this is going to be one hell of a fight. Let’s go. You want the beast? You’ll get the beast. So then I go up, I get ready for the fight, I’m ready to stand in the middle of the octagon right there — and I do, I stand up in the middle of the octagon ready to brawl, ready for blood to be shed and for fans to see a true all-out war. Right?
“But what happened? He starts to fight and he feels my power, and all of a sudden, what? He starts running away from me. I’m not going to start chasing after you.
“That’s not what I’m going to do. The UFC was pampering him, was pampering Izzy, and basically I guess what they wanted was for me to go running after him. No, I’m not going to do that. If he was intimidated and didn’t want to exchange punches with me, that’s on him, not on me. All I did was stand up in there wanting to fight like a man and exchange blows. He didn’t want to do that, that’s on him. But it could have been way more than it was.”
Romero is currently slated to fight Melvin Manhoef on Friday in the co-main event of Bellator 285, which takes place at the 3Arena in Dublin, Ireland.
As it turned out, the Adesanya bout ended up being Romero’s final appearance in the UFC. The 45-year-old Olympic silver medalist subsequently requested his UFC release and signed with Bellator MMA in 2020, where he’s gone 1-1 in his first two fights with the promotion. Most recently, Romero scored a second-round knockout win over Alex Polizzi in May.
Romero said Wednesday that he usually isn’t critical of an intelligent or cautious game plan. It’s more that he believes Adesanya did everything in his power to avoid a fight entirely.
“Now don’t get me wrong, I do understand when someone wants to fight smart,” Romero said. “If you want to get in and out, get a couple of kicks here, a couple punches there, pick your moment, that is absolutely fine. But that’s not what he did. What he did was whenever he felt like I was coming up to him, he literally just ran away.
“So there is a big difference between being a savvy fighter, picking your spots and wanting to be very specific about when you might attack somebody, and running away. And that’s what he was doing. And I wasn’t about to just chase him all around the octagon. That would have been ridiculous. So if he had been willing to stand up in there and fight, that would have been one thing. If he had wanted to be a smart, strategic fighter, [that would have been] another thing. But that’s not what he did. He was just running all over the place.”
Romero isn’t the first fighter to attack Adesanya for his approach in the cage. Whether fairly or unfairly, the UFC middleweight champion has faced criticism after several of his recent title defenses, including his latest decision win over Jared Cannonier at UFC 276.
So Romero simply can’t help but point out the common denominator in the conversation.
“Have you ever seen a boring Yoel Romero fight [aside from Adesanya] — yes or no?” Romero asked.
“That’s my point. You’re bunching me up with Izzy, where, if you take Izzy away, now was there a boring Yoel Romero fight? ... How many fights does Izzy have that are boring? You see? You see? The blame is not on Yoel Romero.”