The man known as “The Soldier of God” delivered another highlight-reel-worthy performance in the main event of UFC 221 in Perth, Australia.
Yoel Romero defeated Luke Rockhold by knockout in the third round of their fight, providing an emphatic conclusion to what was shaping up as a close contest.
The bout came about as a last-minute pairing after the original headliner was called off. Middleweight champion Robert Whittaker was expected to face Rockhold for the undisputed title, marking the first time in a year the division had a definitive champion and no interim titleholder in the mix.
However, a staph infection put Whittaker in the hospital and put the big main event in jeopardy. The man Whittaker defeated in a close decision to win the title, Yoel Romero, stepped up on short notice to fill in. Romero was already penciled in for a fight with David Branch in a few weeks but agreed to meet Rockhold in the main event of UFC 221.
But even though Romero’s courteous gesture seemed to save the headliner, things seemed uncertain once again during the weigh-ins. Romero came in at 188.3 pounds, 3.3 above the allowable limit for a middleweight title fight. He was given additional time as per the company policy but was still unable to shed the necessary pounds in time.
While the bout was originally scheduled to be for the interim championship, Romero’s failed attempt at making weight meant only Rockhold was eligible for the title if he won. It also meant Romero forfeited the opportunity to win any bonuses during the fight.
The fighters, both southpaws, started out tentative in the first round. Rockhold opened up with kicks, one of his specialties, while Romero looked to find a home for an overhand left punch. Rockhold ended up with a bloody shin after Romero checked one of his kicks, but it seemed like Rockhold got the better of the first round.
The second saw Romero come out strong, landing a big punch then pressuring Rockhold into the cage. Rockhold recovered and worked his way back to the center, continuing to rely on leg kicks and working in his jab as well. The second round was closer than the first, and possibly could’ve gone to Romero due to him landing more significant strikes.
Rockhold went back to the jab in the third and seemed to have Romero stuck outside the pocket. However, the always-dangerous Romero fired his overhand left once more, this time catching Rockhold and knocking him to the canvas. He followed up with a devastating uppercut, scoring a KO victory at 1:48 of the third round.
Romer’s last six stoppage victories have all come in the third round, and he’s now 13-2 overall. Though he didn’t get the interim title in Perth, he may be right back in line for a rematch against Whittaker once the champ is healthy again.
Rockhold falls to 16-4 and could likely be headed for a rematch with Chris Weidman or Ronaldo Souza in his next fight though nothing has been made official yet.