Yoel Romero may not have left Perth Arena with the interim UFC middleweight title, but the Cuban standout did put another high-profile name on his record in the main event of UFC 221, as he knocked out former world champion Luke Rockhold in the third round.
The fight between the top two contenders in the 185-pound weight class was made possible when champion Robert Whittaker was forced out of the UFC’s first visit to Perth and his bout against Rockhold due to medical issues. In stepped Romero, who was ineligible to win the interim crown when he weighed in at 187.7 pounds.
And though he didn’t get the belt, he may have set up a rematch with Whittaker, who he lost a close decision to last July.
The two fighters stood perilously close to each other in the early going, leaving the possibility of a sudden ending an ever-present one. Rockhold was the busier fighter, as he went after Romero’s legs with his kicks. By the final two minutes, Romero began returning the favor with his own leg kicks. But with too much posing and not enough striking by Romero, it was Rockhold’s round.
Romero remedied that problem as round two opened, as he blitzed Rockhold with both hands, cutting him over the right eye and briefly jarring him. Rockhold shook off the blows and as the pace settled down, it was the Californian taking the lead once more. Another flurry midway through favored Romero, but as the round drew to a close, it was Rockhold doing the more effective work.
But in typical Romero fashion, a fight can end in a split second, and in the third, the “Soldier of God” ended it emphatically, with a left hand dropping Rockhold and a follow-up left uppercut finishing the fight, with referee Marc Goddard stepping in at 1:48 of round three.
With the win, the No. 1-ranked Romero, 40, improves to 13-2. The No. 2-ranked Rockhold, 33, falls to 16-4.