Yoel Romero failed to make weight badly on Friday and so he was not eligible to win the interim middleweight championship in his fight with Luke Rockhold on Saturday in the main event of UFC 221 in Perth, Australia.
But the massive Cuban will get the opportunity to fight for the only belt that matters after knocking out Rockhold with two crushing left hands. The time of the finish was 1:48 of the third.
An Olympic silver medal-winning freestyle wrestler for Cuba at the Sydney 2000 Games, it has been Romero’s raw power that has carried him in his UFC career.
His finish was his seventh, tied for third in UFC middleweight history behind Anderson Silva and Thiago Santos, each of whom had eight.
Romero’s knockout Saturday was a classic. He connected with a double jab and then fired an overhand left that dropped Rockhold onto the seat of his pants near the cage.
It was clear that Rockhold was out, but Romero roared in and fired another left that landed square on the jaw and put out Rockhold’s lights.
UFC president Dana White said that, despite missing weight, Romero will get a shot at Robert Whittaker’s middleweight title. Whittaker was supposed to fight Rockhold on Saturday, but had to pull out with a variety of ailments, including chickenpox and a staph infection.
“[Romero] doesn’t get a belt or a bonus and lost half his purse, so I would say that’s punishment enough,” White said of his decision to allow Romero a title shot.
Romero, who lost to Whittaker at UFC 213 in July in an interim middleweight title fight, had the look of a champion on Saturday, even though he didn’t feel well before the fight as a result of his weight-cutting issues.
He did a good job of negating Rockhold’s offense, and was checking Rockhold’s kicks well. Romero, though, is all about power, and he eventually found a way to use it even though he was limping and his right leg seemed injured.
Afterward, Romero left the Octagon with his arms over the shoulders of two of his team members and appeared to put no weight on his right leg.
“Rockhold is a very good athlete and an amazing fighter,” Romero said after the fight. “He was the champion in Strikeforce and in the UFC. I’m very happy. I want to fight for the belt.”
The first Whittaker-Romero went the distance and Whittaker won a unanimous decision in a bout that was named Fight of the Year. Assuming he’s not seriously injured, he’s going to get a chance to avenge that loss with the belt on the line fairly soon.