When it comes to the fight game, there are prospects and then there are stars. Every fighter who reaches a level of like the UFC is already most certainly a major prospect. There comes a crossroads for that fighter, though. It is the fight where they face some tough competition and either shine on the way to stardom or take a step back to work on their game a bit more. Yoel Romero faces that kind of fight next Wednesday at the UFC’s third Fight for the Troops event.

That evening, the Cuban upstart faces Ronny Markes, another middleweight on a winning streak.

This is Romero’s second fight inside the Octagon and his first slot on a main card. It shows how much faith the UFC is putting in Romero. His fight is billed third from the top, right below the co-main event between Liz Carmouche and Alexis Davis.

Both fighters are certainly deserving of this slot. Markes is on a seven-fight winning streak and is undefeated in three UFC appearances, easily the type of resume that prompts this sort of placement on the card. However, the spotlight really is on Romero, an Olympic silver medalist wrestler, who needed a mere 92 seconds to earn the knockout of Clifford Starks in his Octagon debut.

“The performance [against Starks] was expected from my team, a great performance,” Romero told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “I don’t go into the fight thinking of a quick knockout. If it happens, it is just God’s will.”

In the fight game, you really are only as good as your last performance. With how good Romero looked his last time out, there certainly has to be pressure to live up to that standard. If there is, Romero certainly isn’t really feeling it.

“Every fight is different and I trained hard enough and long enough. I trust myself to do my best,” he admitted.

Romero (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Romero (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

This is a big spot for Romero, but it didn’t come without some bumps in the road. The 36-year-old was originally scheduled to fight at UFC 164 in Milwaukee, but Romero was eventually pulled from the card after his opponent, Derek Brunson, withdrew with an injury and Brian Houston was not medically cleared as a replacement. That’s when everything fell into place for Romero’s upcoming bout with Markes.

“Things happen. I would love to make it to those fights, but this happens in professional sports,” Romero said.

The extended time to train could be a blessing in disguise for the Cuban fighter. He certainly could have big things ahead. He has extensive wrestling experience, but this will only be his seventh professional mixed martial arts bout. Yet, Romero need look no further than Chris Weidman for a perfect example of how this could help a fighter. Weidman had an almost year-long layoff before he fought Anderson Silva, and the young fighter used all of that extra training time to work on his fundamentals with the end result coming in the form of a championship belt.

This is also only Romero’s second fight since dropping down to middleweight and since switching camps from Germany to American Top Team in South Florida. Both of those changes happened after his only career loss. It came at light heavyweight under the Strikeforce banner. Romero is getting more comfortable with these changes every day.

This level of comfort could very well be due to the fact that Romero was born a fighter. No tonly is Romero a former Olympic wrestler for Cuba, but his brother is Yoan Pablo Hernandez, the current Ring Magazine World cruiserweight champion and IBF cruiserweight champ. The two used to train together back in Germany.

“I come from a family of athletes,” Romero explained. “We all love sports like boxing and wrestling. It is in our blood.”

Romero (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Romero (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Romero will have to lean on those fighting instincts when he steps in the cage next Wednesday in Kentucky. Markes is undoubtedly a huge threat and is looking to take the same step as Romero into the upper echelon of contenders. These two strong middleweights will have the challenge that each other brings, but they also share the challenge—and honor—of fighting in front of the U.S. Armed Forces. Even though Romero is Cuban and has spent a good amount of time in Germany, he understands the magnitude of fighting in front of those men and women.

“That makes me very proud, just being there with the U.S. troops,” he revealed.

Someone, be it Romero or Markes, will take a huge step forward on Wednesday. With a great performance, the winner could certainly step in with a top contender in their next outing. But if Romero can knock out a guy like Markes in the same way he has in all of his other victories, the hype train will be ready to leave the station. Is Romero ready for that superstardom and the guys at the top of the division? The answer is a simple one.

“Yes, I am ready,” declared Romero.

Top Photo: Yoel Romero (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Trey Downey
Staff Writer

A Central Florida native, Trey Downey's interest in MMA came after a trip to Blockbuster and the rental of UFC 47 on VHS. He has been blogging about the sport since 2011 and hosted a podcast called The TD Experience focusing on football and MMA (touchdowns and takedowns). Trey studied radio and television at the University of Central Florida and will soon be attending the Connecticut School of Broadcasting. Trey enjoys watching sports, pro wrestling and is an avid runner.

  • Eric Albarracin

    You underplayed How athletic And How Good of a Wrestler This guy is. This guy even at 36 , is the best atlete In Mma, the best Wrestler In MMA. For a decade In Wrestling he was virtually unbeatable. If his Striking And Bjj has evolved , i dont see Him Losing to anyone.

    Ive been telling people bout Him years.