Israel Adesanya on Yoel Romero getting title shot off two losses: ‘(Expletive) records’

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HOUSTON – When the UFC announced Israel Adesanya would headline UFC 248 with a middleweight title defense against Yoel Romero, there were two general lines of thinking about the matchup:

  1. This is a great fight.
  2. But does Romero really deserve a title shot right now? 

Unlike most MMA arguments, in which impossible-to-reconcile, diametrically opposed positions are taken, in this case, it’s easy to see the validity in both sides.

After all, even though Romero (13-4 MMA, 9-3 UFC)  has lost two straight fights and three of his past four, all three of his losses were close decisions. But they still were losses.

On the other hand, it remains a great fight on paper between the UFC’s fastest-rising new superstar, and one of the most exciting and tough contenders ever to grace the octagon.

As far as Adesanya (18-0 MMA, 7-0 UFC) is concerned, the latter is what matters when they enter the octagon in Las Vegas on March 7 at T-Mobile Arena.

For the first defense of his belt, Adesanya was angling to fight top contender Paulo Costa, who defeated Romero by decision at UFC 241.

But with Costa remaining on the sidelines, Romero became, in his mind, the clear-cut best option.

“I was trying to fight Paulo in my next fight, but he had a bicep injury that was supposed to take nine months to get over. But then, miraculously, he got healed in three months or two months,” Adesanya said at Friday’s UFC 248 press conference.

Adesanya doesn’t see numbers when he sees Romero, just a stylistic challenge.

“And I don’t really care about records, man. (Expletive) records,” Adesanya said. “(Romero) is a guy that no one ever calls out, allegedly. Only ever, I think David Branch called him out. But I want to test myself against everyone of this era who is a beast. And he is a beast. So I’m going to test him.”

Besides, of Romero’s four career losses, only one is by finish, and that was in Romero’s Strikeforce debut in 2011. So giving Romero his first loss inside the distance in the UFC, to Adesanya, is too inviting a goal to pass up.

“What I hope to accomplish: I want to be the first man to stop him properly,” Adesanya said. “What’s his name, Paulo rocked him. Tim Kennedy rocked him. But no one has ever stopped him since Strikeforce – I think (Gesias) Cavalcante. I want to be the first in the UFC to put him away.”

For his part, Romero didn’t directly address the issue, but simply indicated he was happy to get the opportunity.

“I feel great. I feel the same. It is what it is,” Romero said in his native Spanish. “I’m still here. I say thank you, God. I say thank you to this guy for accepting the fight, and we’re going to do what the people want and need. We’re going to do this. We’re going to give them what they want and to see the best. He said he needed to fight the best, and with the beast, and if I’m here that means it’s because that’s how it is.

“If someone gives you a last chance for life, you’re going to take it, and you’re going to take it at all costs. He says it’s the last chance he needs to be careful. I know what I can do. That’s it.”