42-year-old Yoel Romero reveals key to his longevity: 'Talent alone is not enough'

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·4 min read

LAS VEGAS — Yoel Romero has a habit of answering a question with a question, but on this one, all he could do was grin broadly.

Romero, who is six weeks away from his 43rd birthday, will challenge Israel Adesanya for the middleweight championship Saturday in the main event of UFC 248 at T-Mobile Arena. If he’s victorious, Romero will become the oldest UFC fighter to win a title for the first time, and the second-oldest ever behind Randy Couture. Couture was 45 when he lost the heavyweight title to Brock Lesnar in 2008.

But perhaps the most remarkable feat of Romero’s career is that he’ll be fighting for the UFC title nearly 20 years after he won an Olympic silver medal for Cuba in 2000 in Sydney, Australia.

Asked if that was his most significant accomplishment in a career filled with stellar moments, Romero showed the wide toothy grin that has helped him become so popular with MMA fans as he heads down the stretch run of his athletic career.

“Of course, and I’m really happy about it,” said Romero, who wrestled in both the 2000 and the 2004 Olympics for Cuba. “I think about that and I thank God.”

He’s clearly got the great genetics required to do something like that. He’s built like a 25-year-old bodybuilding prodigy, not a 42-year-old in the second act of an athletic career that has consumed his life. His younger brother, Yoan Pablo Hernandez, was a boxing world champion who once held the IBF cruiserweight title.

It is not, however, solely genetics that account for his ability to pull off a feat only a handful of others have been able to do.

“I am lucky to have the [physical] talent and God was good to me,” Romero said. “But talent alone is not enough. You can have the talent, but if you don’t nurture it, if you don’t train the proper way, eat the right things, sleep the proper way, you’re going to lose that talent.”

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 04:  Yoel Romero of Cuba holds an open training session for fans and media during the UFC 248 Open Workouts at MGM Grand on March 4, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Yoel Romero of Cuba holds an open training session for fans and media during the UFC 248 Open Workouts at MGM Grand on March 4, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

His longevity is clearly a source of pride, but he’s no longer focused so much on the baubles. He applauds Adesanya for taking the fight against him when so many have opted to pass on him and fight someone else.

Adesanya is a healthy -310 favorite at the MGM Grand Sports Book, while Romero is +250. He’s coming in off of back-to-back losses, and three losses in his last four fights, but all three of those defeats were chosen as Fight of the Night.

Sometimes, fans and media look at losses and take it as a sign a fighter is no longer able to compete at a certain level. But UFC president Dana White scoffed at that way of thinking.

“The fascinating thing about Yoel Romero and when you talk about him losing these fights, if you talk to the guys he fought, let them tell you the story of how the fight played out,” White said. “Every time they hit him, it hurt them. They’ve said to me it’s literally like fighting a piece of concrete. And nobody who has ever fought him wants to fight him again. They don’t want to fight him again.”

Adesanya, though, sought out Romero. And while Romero appreciates that, he’s not going to cut him any slack.

Though he’s an elite wrestler, he doesn’t use it much, if at all. He’s become a striker and the odds reflect the fact that Adesanya is quicker, has better footwork and appears on paper to be the better overall striker.

Adesanya figures to rely on his footwork heavily to keep him out of danger. Romero praised Adesanya’s footwork and his quick feet, but isn’t about to say striking with him is a hopeless task.

“Very important: It’s difficult, not impossible,” Romero said of dealing with Adesanya’s footwork. “Big difference there. Difficult, but not impossible. And if it’s not impossible, it can be done.”

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