“There is a reason why I'm here, I'm going to fight. Things aren't going my way or according to the game plan – whatever, keep going. He just hit you with a knee – great, just stay aggressive."
His jaw was broken and he still won.
That is the Cliff’s notes version of Ricardo Romero’s first bout in the Octagon, which sincerely does the fight little justice. Free and live on the Spike TV prelims for UFC 116, Romero pulled off a miraculous come from behind submission victory over Seth Petruzelli. It was like a scene ripped out of many classic Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira fights where the battered and bloodied grappler needed just a momentary window to wrench an arm for a sudden finish. Broken jaw and all, like “Minotauro”, Romero still had his hand raised in the end.
“Obviously, I was very fortunate to come out with the win,” states Romero, who is incredibly humble about his UFC debut win. “The fight did not go to plan at all. During the fight and looking back at the fight, I can tell I wasn't on point with my reach and my timing. Things weren't clicking for me, I was off.”
It was a really bad time to be off because the opening 5 minutes may have been the most “on” Seth Petruzelli has ever looked.
From the opening bell, it was classic non-stop action from Petruzelli. He was throwing punches from odd angles with lots of power, mixing in kicks and elbows and even a spinning back kick to end the round. The fight was evolving at a breakneck speed and appeared to be in danger of ending at any moment, except for the fact that New Jersey’s own Romero didn’t stop coming forward and appeared to be the calmest of all under all this fire. Even catching a literal jaw-breaking knee from “The Kimbo Killer” did not make him hesitate.
“It was a fully broken jaw,” explains the 32-year old Romero, noting that although it was not expected, the jaw injury was understandable. “I had actually hurt it prior to the fight. I got kneed by somebody in practice, so my jaw had been clicking going into the fight. It was lucky that it wasn't poking into anything and I was able to keep my mouth in a certain position, so that I could keep going.” Continuing to fight onward after a terrible injury like that is impressive, but to win is even more impressive.
“Luckily for me, I didn't really notice it when it happened during the fight,” jokes Romero, who may have been the only one who did not notice it in the arena as the crowd, Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan all howled with groans after the knee landed. “I'm going to say it was a combination of adrenaline and staying active that I didn't notice it. At times you get hit in practice, sparring, or a match and some people just don't notice it.”
What Ricardo Romero said next is the most telling sentence of why he won that night, “For me, it was I got hit, but I kept going.” In a nutshell, he took all that his opponent could give and more, but Romero continued towards what he knows best: winning.
Walking into the UFC Octagon, Romero was 10-1 with his one loss by disqualification. No one has stopped him. No one has gone to a decision and beat him. Sticking to his gameplan has only led him to victory thus far. So, why would a lowly broken jaw stop him that night?
“One of the things we train at my gym, Advanced Martial Arts, and at AMA, is being aggressive,” explains Romero, who splits his training between the two gyms in New Jersey. Romero began training MMA out of Advanced Martial Arts in North Brunswick under his head coach Brian Katz. Romero also travels an hour north to Whippany to train with the likes of the UFC’s Miller brothers at Mike Constantino’s AMA gym.
“We are very aggressive and we keep coming forward. We don't back off even if things are not going to plan or even if you're getting beat up. You stick to your offense and keep being aggressive. I think that is a part of my style as a fighter and as a wrestler and as a grappler. Stay progressive, stay offensive and things will open up. Keep that mindset.”
The flip-turn of the fight with Petruzelli was when it hit the ground. There, Romero was in the driver’s seat. “That was the one thing I felt good with; it felt lopsided there.”
Although he lost the first round, Romero did threaten on the ground and showed he was ready for his opponent there. “At the end of the first round, I got back on top and got his back and I remember thinking this is going a lot better than I thought.”
The second round began similarly as the first, with one-sided stand-up, but soon enough the two hit the floor where Romero took over. “Once I got him to the ground I was like I'm going to rain some elbows and get this armbar. I was able to get it and the match was over.”
On February 5th at UFC 126 in Las Vegas, the Rutgers University philosophy major turned mixed martial artist will have his next challenge in Kyle Kingsbury.
“Kyle will probably be the most dangerous opponent I've faced so far,” divulges Romero who only has glowing praise for the season 8 TUF alum. “He's at a great camp with a lot of great fighters over there like Cain Velasquez. I'm assuming they know what they're doing over there and have this kid working two-a-days all the time and just going at it. I'm sure he'll be ready for every situation.”
Kingsbury is coming into this fight on a two fight win streak and was awarded “Fight of the Night” in his decision victory over Jared Hamman last September. “I'm not looking at him and thinking, ‘oh, he is really good at this, so we have to work on takedown defense only’,” asserts Romero, who is simply working to be the best Ricardo Romero that he can be. The main difference Romero is preparing for is their height difference. “We've brought in a couple people who are taller than me: 6'4" and up. Rolling on the ground, stand-up, takedowns - it is something that makes a difference everywhere, so it is something you have to get used to.”
Romero is expecting this fight to hit all areas and when they do, he will be looking for the finish. “Everyone likes to consider themselves a knockout fighter or whatever. I consider myself an opportunist,” estimates Romero, who has four wins by TKO and six by submission. “I'm just jumping on whatever I see there. That's how I was in wrestling and that is how I am in Jiu-Jitsu and that's how I am in MMA. If something is there I'll give it a whirl, I'll give it a go and see if it will take.” Basically, if “Kingsbu” makes a mistake, then Romero is capitalizing on it.
“I'm not sitting on my haunches waiting for the next submission. If it happens - great. But if it has to go three rounds then I'm in good enough shape to do that as well. That’s what it is to be an opportunist. If I can punch you out - great. If I can tap you out - great, I'd love to. If I can win on points - I'll take it. A victory in the UFC is a great accomplishment, so I'll take it anyway I can.”
Lastly, if there is one thing the fans can expect is that these two light heavyweights will come forward, and often. It has all the makings for a sleeper “Fight of the Night” winner. Kingsbury did not show an ounce of give in his slobber-knocker with Hamman and, arguably, nothing is going to stop Romero from pushing forward if a broken jaw and “The Silverback” didn’t stop him. And why should it? Romero explains it best, this is the fight business and this what they signed up for:
“There is a reason why I'm here, I'm going to fight. Things aren't going my way or according to the game plan – whatever, keep going. He just hit you with a knee – great, just stay aggressive. Now he just hit you with the kitchen sink and a refrigerator to the face, what are you going to do? What else are you going to do? Stick to your gameplan and stay aggressive and opportunities will come. That's what I did.”
And he won. End of story.