Yoel Romero put on a career-defining performance on Saturday against former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida.
The 38-year-old middleweight uber-prospect stood with “The Dragon” and his famed strikes until late in the third round when he attempted his very first takedown. It was a beautiful trip takedown that placed Machida on his backside and Romero followed it up with a succession of brutal elbows that had the Brazilian’s head bouncing off the mat. Referee John McCarthy rushed in and halted the action, officially, at 1:38 of the round.
Romero transitioned to MMA at 32 in 2009 and has been lauded as one of the greatest wrestlers to ever compete in the sport. Now undefeated in all six of his UFC outings, Romero put on a performance against Machida that should have stolen the show.
Unfortunately, it was his post-fight speech that will be getting him more attention.
Romero, who goes by the nickname “Soldier of God” was draped in a “John 3:16” headband as UFC announcer Jon Anik approached him for the customary post-fight victory interview.
And that is when things got confusing.
“Wow…I’m trying English…I’m sorry if people can’t understand me, but I’m trying,” Romero said. “Hey, UFC! Hey, Miami! Hey, Florida! Listen, people, listen!
He continued, “What happened to you USA? What happened to you? What’s going on? The name is Jesus, God. What happened to you? Why come USA? Go! Go back for you. Go for Jesus, not for gay Jesus, people!”
Romero is a Cuban emigrant and English is not his first language, so the sentences are hard to decipher and could have been misconstrued – surely, at the very least, Romero would have liked to be more clear in his delivery on the heels of such a benchmark decision being handed down by the Supreme Court in regards to marriage equality.
Here is the interview in question, for those who want to discern for themselves:
Whether Romero was referencing the Supreme Court's decision is almost a moot point now, as some fighters have already lashed out via social media.
Soon-to-be UFC fighter Phil “CM Punk” Brooks immediately offered Romero some of his officially licensed merchandise shortly after the controversial remarks were made.
A moment to praise freedom of speech. We all have things we believe. We can all say them publicly, everyone has the right to make fun of us.
— Coach (@CMPunk) June 28, 2015
Romero, for his part, tried to clarify his comments via an interpreter in the post-fight press conference.
"I would like to apologize if there was a misunderstanding," Romero said. "First of all, I am a man of God. And God is love. My expressions are always going to be about love. What I was trying to say in the Octagon was, live for the American Dream.
"…I will tell you guys something: God made man to be free. Anybody can do whatever they want. I wouldn't be the type of person to critique anybody. I have to look at myself first, and be a better person, to love people. What I was trying to say was, to the United States, thank you, for giving me the American Dream. There is no better country, because it is blessed by God."
Unfortunately for Romero, he could not have picked a more inopportune time to air his apparent grievances. His performance against Machida pushes him one step closer towards potential UFC gold, and these heated comments – no matter your opinion on the issue – could very well force him two steps back.