When former multiple-time UFC middleweight title challenger, Yoel ‘Soldier of God’ Romero parted ways with the UFC last week by mutual consent, many were surprised given the fact the Cuban finisher still retained three-fights on his then Octagon deal.

Recently penning a multi-fight deal to link up with Bellator MMA after an almost seven-annum stay with the Dana White led UFC, the 43-year-old is linking up with the organization off the back of three consecutive decision losses, two of them albeit contentious.

Romero, who plys his trade at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida was recently pencilled in to meet with The Ultimate Fighter 17 runner-up, Uriah ‘Prime Time’ Hall at UFC Vegas 7 in August, with the pairing failing to materialise after the former withdrew with reasons undisclosed.

Speaking with ESPN MMA reporter, Ariel Helwani, Romero explained his surprise with his release from the promotion, claiming the UFC had planned on pairing him with the above mentioned, Hall as well as previous opposition, Derek Brunson — despite his idea for a top-three opponent.

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I was already in training, very hard, getting ready,” Romero said. “We were already thinking about fighting in January or February, in 185(-pounds) or 205 (-pounds). We were looking to fight with the top three in either division.

My managers (Malki Kawa) explained this to the top of the UFC,” Romero continued. [The UFC] wanted (me) to fight with Uriah Hall, (or) Derek Brunson. We explained that it didn’t make sense for (me) to fight with these young men. We had an idea we were chasing the world title. The way we were training, we knew we had one or two fights and then go for the belt. Our thought was fighting any of these guys in the back of the roster was taking steps backwards, not forwards.

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With the promotion and Romero hitting a stumbling block in terms of potential next opponents at middleweight after his March title challenge loss to current champion, Israel Adesanya, Romero noted his interest in a long-speculated move to the light heavyweight division. 

After some thought, Romero and co decided on a shortlist of foes including two-time title challenger, Dominick Reyes, as well as one-time championship chasers, Thiago Santos, Glover Teixeira, and Anthony Smith — with the promotion instead floating Brazilian contender, Johnny Walker.

They (the UFC) came back with an offer for us to fight Johnny Walker at 205(-pounds),” Romero said. “My managers initially were saying who we wanted: Dominick Reyes, Glover (Teixeira), (Thiago) Santos and Anthony Smith. And it was back and forth, kind of quiet on their end, and once they reached back, it was we couldn’t come to an agreement and they were going to commit to the release.” (H/T ESPN MMA)

After even more speculation as to where the Cuban Olympic silver medal victor would land in a bid to resume his mixed martial arts career, Scott Coker’s Bellator eventually snapped up the veteran knockout-artist to a multi-fight deal, despite initially distancing themselves from negotiations.

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Ahead of his 2021 return and first excursion at 205-pounds since September 2011, Romero has noted how there is a “huge possibility” that himself and former two-time UFC light heavyweight title hopeful, Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson will play the welcoming party for each other in their respective debuts, in a possible pairing fans have clamoured for. 

Aspiring mixed martial arts reporter based in Ireland. Follow along at @Ross_Markey on Twitter for all the latest news, fight announcements, opinion, and feature pieces.