Bellator 266: With an impeccable health check at 44, Yoel Romero is finally ready to make his promotional debut

Contrary to the huge buzz surrounding his originally planned Bellator MMA debut in May against Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, it looks like Yoel Romero is going a bit under the radar when entering Saturday’s new reservation atop the Bellator 266 in San Jose. , in California.

Romero (13-5), the 44-year-old ageless wonder from Cuba who was curiously cut by the UFC in 2020 following a close loss in a middleweight title fight, has been ruled medically unfit to face Johnson after being stung in his left eye during bout. Johnson beat late substitute Jose Augusto to advance to the semi-finals of the World Light Heavyweight Grand Prix.

Four months later, Romero says he has a good health check to break an 18-month layoff when he sets foot inside the SAP Center, which was the same building he made his UFC debut eight years ago. The potential problem is that he won’t get any favors in the matchmaking department by going up against a former 205-pound Bellator champion to Phil Davis (22-6, 1 NC) who, while not as seemingly dangerous. than Johnson, is arguably a tougher fight. quite considering how difficult it is to look good against him.

“I still had a little trouble with my eyes,” Romero told “The MMA Hour” on Wednesday. “The doctor said you can’t fight and you better have some time. I said, ‘OK, I can wait. “You have to prepare for it because anything can happen. And now everything is fine and everything is perfect, thank God.”

Considering how rusty Johnson, 37, looked as he retired for four years when he was nearly stopped by Augusto before rallying in the end, Romero is confident he would have handled the former challenger at twice for the UFC title. Instead, Johnson will fight for the Bellator title on October 16 in the tournament semifinals against defending champion Vadim Nemkov.

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“[Johnson] is an amazing guy and it was an amazing fight but I didn’t think it was his best night, ”Romero said. “He’s a great fighter but I don’t think it’s his best performance. I think if we had fought that night I certainly would have won. ”

Although Bellator chairman Scott Coker has maintained since Romero’s injury that the promotion is still interested in booking a fight against Johnson sooner rather than later, the tournament structure could make that complicated. “The Soldier of God” must also answer many of the same questions he was faced with entering the Johnson upon his return this weekend.

These questions include everything from a long layoff and the condition of his eye to whether it will be the fight that his age catches up with him for a bit. Romero has also lost four of his last five fights to end his UFC run, although all four came by a somewhat questionable decision – including three title fights – against four of the best 185-pound fighters in the world. modern history.

Romero, a 2000 Olympic freestyle wrestling silver medalist, will also fight in light heavyweight for the first time since 2011, when he lost his only appearance under the Strikeforce banner by second round knockout to Rafael Cavalcante. . The loss, in only his fifth professional fight, saw Romero out of the sport for nearly two full years before making his UFC debut in 2013 and winning his first eight trips to the Octagon to clinch his career. a title.

And then there’s the task of facing off against Davis, a 36-year-old former UFC who has been among the most successful and consistent fighters under the Bellator banner since his debut in 2015. Davis has lost only against the best – Ryan Bader and Vadim Nemkov (twice) – and two of those fights were split decisions.

Given his patience and technical prowess to go along with his five-round endurance and decorated wrestling skills, Davis is a slight betting favorite after his loss to Nemkov (48-47 on all three scorecards) in their bout in the April quarter-finals.

“I think it’s a great fight,” Romero said. “You have to see me on Saturday. I am very happy and I have to say thank you to God because God is protecting me and keeping me in an amazing state. He is watching over me all the time.

“When [I was] young, I would waste a lot of energy on useless posts. Now I have learned to manage my energy and I am much more energy efficient now. ”

Given that Romero’s age might suggest his window will be small to maximize his opportunities under the Belllator banner, Davis’ fight presents an intriguing risk / reward scenario for the explosive forward.

A loss, especially if it presents itself in a boring way, which is sometimes the norm against Davis, would send Romero deeper into a losing streak that would make it difficult to see him as nothing more than an aging attraction. A win, however, could field Romero the next title challenger at the end of the Grand Prix.

Romero has earned only one victory in the past five years, but he has performed incredibly well at the highest level throughout, leaving a compelling argument every step of the way that he should have won in close losses. against Robert Whittaker, Paulo Costa and current UFC Champion Israel Adesanya, or at least he was one step away from doing so.

It will be Romero’s responsibility this time to make the most of the opportunities he has left, especially since he no longer has to cut to 185 pounds, which has caused him to lose weight in back-to-back title fights.

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