LAS VEGAS — Yoel Romero wasn’t the UFC’s first choice to challenge middleweight champ Israel Adesanya. Romero had lost two in a row and three of his past four. On the surface, giving him a title shot at UFC 248 on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena didn’t make much sense.
Then Adesanya stepped in.
“The UFC just said nah, they don’t want to do that fight, because he’s coming off two losses,” Adesanya said Thursday at media day. “And that’s fair enough. But I requested the fight, because I understand what is at stake for myself.”
Romero represents a legacy fight for Adesanya. Top contender Paulo Costa was in line to challenge Adesanya, but biceps surgery opened the door for Romero, the former Cuban Olympic wrestling silver medalist.
Romero turns 43 next month, but Adesanya does not want to hear the “he’s old” narrative if he beats the chiseled veteran.
“Beforehand, everyone is saying the same thing you guys are all saying: ‘Oh, he’s a specimen, he’s out of this world. He’s a guy that does this and that …'” Adesanya said. “I think I’m catching him at the right time. He says he feels the best he’s ever felt, even when he was 20-something. That’s his own words.
“So when I beat him, I don’t want to hear any excuses. I want my f—ing credit. I want, ‘Oh you beat the baddest motherf—er,’ quote unquote, by you guys. The scariest motherf—er in the middleweight division. And that’s why people will remember my name.”
The charismatic Adesanya (18-0) is ESPN’s No. 7-ranked pound-for-pound MMA fighter. He knocked out Robert Whittaker at UFC 243 last October to win the undisputed middleweight title after winning the interim title last April.
In the co-main event, women’s strawweight champion Zhang Weili will meet former champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk in a battle of two of the top pound-for-pound women’s fighters in the world. ESPN has Zhang ranked No. 4 and Jedrzejczyk at No. 6.
Zhang (20-1) is the UFC’s first Chinese champion and is making her first defense after a training camp disrupted by travel problems related to the coronavirus. She is on a 20-fight winning streak, including victories in her first four fights in the UFC. Zhang, 30, knocked out Jessica Andrade to win the title last August.
Jedrzejczyk (16-3) is the most successful champion in UFC women’s strawweight history, successfully defending the belt five times. The 32-year-old Poland native sports a 10-3 UFC record.
Also on the card Saturday, Sean O’Malley returns from two years away due to issues with UFC anti-doping partner USADA to face Jose Quiñonez; Beneil Dariush faces Drakkar Klose in a tough lightweight matchup; and Alex Oliveira takes on Max Griffin in what should be an action-packed welterweight affair.
Fight in progress:
Recap to come.