Alexander Romanov: A once undefeated wrestler's fight for redemption

The formerly undefeated Alexander Romanov [Image Courtesy: Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images]

Alexander Romanov has mastered a martial art that arguably translates more easily to MMA than any other: wrestling. 'King Kong' was once regarded as Moldova's highest-potential option to crown the country's first-ever UFC champion. At one point in time, the distinction made all the sense in the world.

In 2019, a year before his debut under the UFC banner, Romanov was an undefeated heavyweight with 11 consecutive wins. By the time 2022 was in full swing, so too was 'King Kong'. He had 16 straight victories to his name, with all but one of his triumphs coming via either submission or TKO.

Not only was he a winner, he was a finisher. Unfortunately, Alexander Romanov was not the next unbeaten great set to take his division by storm. Instead, he suffered two consecutive losses that caused the UFC to demote him to the status of a prelim opener... on a UFC on ESPN card, no less.

While he managed to emerge victorious against Blagoy Ivanov this past Saturday, where did it all go wrong? Will 'King Kong' climb his way back to the top following his first win since 2022?

The rise of 'King Kong'

At a glance, it is easy to understand why there was so much hype surrounding Alexander Romanov. Back in 2016, the Moldovan was a 25-year old prospect with a breadth of high-level wrestling experience. He had the right blend of youth, skill and agility to give the slow, plodding behemoths at heavyweight fits.

Furthermore, he had the strength, power and physicality to contend with those who sought to bulldoze him. Thus, it came as no surprise to anyone that 'King Kong' needed just 50 seconds for his hand to be raised in victory in his MMA debut. The almighty squeeze of his rear-naked choke proved too great for Yuriy Protsenko.

He would be the first of many to crumble before the future UFC heavyweight, as 10 other fighters fell to the all-conquering wrestling pedigree of 'King Kong'. The spotless 11-0 record that Alexander Romanov boasted was enough to draw the UFC's attention.

The promotion's heavyweight division was in desperate need of new blood, and the now 26-year old Moldovan was happy to oblige. He signed with the UFC and wasted little time in revealing exactly why he was such a hot prospect at 265 pounds when he submitted Roque Martinez in his promotional debut.

Four more wins followed, bringing his tally to 16 consecutive wins and no losses. Among his fallen foes, only one had managed to survive Romanov's relentless onslaught to count a decision loss as a moral victory. Some fighters are finishers in the regional scene, only to struggle in the UFC. Romanov, however, was different.

Finally, after taking part in five Fight Night cards, Alexander Romanov was given his first PPV assignment at UFC 278. He faced Marcin Tybura, a fighter five years his senior. Their bout headlined the preliminaries right before the main card, and big things were expected of 'King Kong'.

Alexander Romanov's fall from grace

UFC 278 took place in Salt Lake City, Utah, where its high-altitude demands punctured holes in the gas tanks of nearly every fighter besides the then welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, who still lost his title to Leon Edwards' Knockout of the Year winner in 2022.

Even the likes of Luke Rockhold, whose conditioning was always flawless, was left gasping for air. Thus, maintaining one's cardio was a tall order for a heavy-set 265-pounder like Alexander Romanov. But perhaps he wouldn't need to. The first round of his clash with Marcin Tybura was as dominant as he could have wanted it to be.

While he didn't finish his foe, he scored two takedowns out of three, and racked up 4:27 minutes of control time, landing 64 out of 81 strikes, with 14 out of 18 being significant at 77%. Tybura was thoroughly outclassed and landed just one strike out of four, zero of which were significant.

It was a 10-8 round in everyone's eyes but the judges'. While Romanov hoped for a similarly dominant round in the second, his cardio dove off a cliff. With his gas tank depleted, he failed to score any takedowns, while his Polish foe edged him out on the round's total strike count.

In the third round, more of the same followed, with 'King Kong' lacking the energy to fight as he did in the first five minutes. So by the end of the bout, he suffered his first-ever defeat in what should have been his showcase. The sting of his first professional MMA loss proved too great to bear.

Romanov took nearly an entire year away from the sport to regroup. In March, however, he marked his return in the co-main event of the UFC Fight Night card that saw Merab Dvalishvili set a takedown attempt record in his dominant win over former bantamweight champion Petr Yan.

Unfortunately, 'King Kong' was not able to have a similarly dominant wrestling performance against his opponent, Alexander Volkov. Instead, the Moldovan heavyweight showed up in questionable shape and failed to complete any of his five takedown attempts, and was TKO'd in the first round for his troubles.

Not only was Romanov no longer undefeated, he was now on a two-fight losing streak. All talk of a potential title run had ceased and 'King Kong' fell from the UFC's good graces, for he was no longer fighting for a path into the top three of the division. Now, he was fighting for his place in the top 15.

The start of Alexander Romanov's fight for survival

The evidence for how low Alexander Romanov's standing was in the UFC after his crushing loss to Alexander Volkov was made clear by his position on the UFC on ESPN 48 card this past Saturday. The once undefeated heavyweight was relegated to being the opening bout of the prelims on a Fight Night card.

His opponent was Blagoy Ivanov, a man on a rough patch of his own, with four losses in his last five fights, and his only win being over the unranked Marcos Rogério de Lima. The pair squared off in a tentative, slow-paced affair, with the first round being short on significant strikes.

However, a pair of takedowns landed by the Moldovan heavyweight helped edge the fight in his favor. It was a return to winning ways for 'King Kong', but not in the way he may have wanted it to be. There was no finish, nor was the bout punctuated by the dominance expected of a vintage Romanov performance.

Unfortunately, for him, he is no longer a young prospect in his twenties. Alexander Romanov will turn 33 in December. Tuesday's rankings reshuffle saw him move closer to the top 10, at 13, but a win over the 15th ranked Ivanov was never enough for him to crack it.

A third consecutive loss for Alexander Romanov could have spelled the end of his UFC tenure. The promotion has cut fighters for less. While worries over his striking technique and poor cardio remain, there's still a glimmer of hope for 'King Kong' if he intends to reach newer heights under the UFC banner.

His wrestling remains high-level. And in a division where a grappler as inexperienced as Ciryl Gane can rise to the status of interim champion, perhaps Alexander Romanov can make something of his promotional run, even if all he can become is a perennial top 10 fighter.

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