UFC veteran recalls unexpected encounter with Khabib Nurmagomedov during his wrestling days
- This UFC fighter could be the reason behind Nurmagomedov's excellent grappling skills. #UFC #UFC248
Before he turned his eyes to mixed martial arts, Yoel Romero had an illustrious career in wrestling while representing his home country Cuba.
The crowning glory of his former career has to be the Olympic silver medal in freestyle wrestling, followed by multiple wins over American wrestling legend Cael Sanderson. Very few people have had the chance to accomplish the second feat.
Ahead of his title fight with Champion Israel Adesanya for the Middleweight belt, Romero talked to MMA Fighting about his wrestling legacy and how a young Khabib Nurmagomedov saw him wrestle at the Mecca of Wrestling.
Yoel and Khabib go back a long way
Khabib is probably one of the best takedown artists on the current UFC roster. Speaking from his own experience, Romero said that the Russian largely owes his grappling skills to a particular place back in his home country - Makhachkala, Dagestan. Romero himself has trained in the city during his time as a top wrestler.
"I don’t know if you know but the best for you, for everybody, for the world, the best city in the world for wrestling is Makhachkala, Dagestan. I stayed for three months in this city when I was wrestling. I stayed three months in Dagestan. All in my division, six or seven world champions in Dagestan. Those six people for one of them to come out on top for the world championships or the Olympic games. You can’t imagine — six people, [all] world champions but you have that many people [to train with]."
It is during this time that a 14-year old Nurmagomedov would first see Romero wrestle - a fact that the latter would not know about till years later. 'The Eagle' showed up at one of Romero's earlier fights to introduce himself as a new UFC fighter.
"I remember the first time when I saw him, he was in the United States, was at my first fight. I finish the win, he went 'hey Yoel, you remember me?' and I said 'no, who are you?' He said 'I am Khabib Nurmagomedov, I see you the first time when you stayed in Dagestan, a big tournament and I saw you and I was only 14 years old.' I said, 'Oh really?' And he said ‘Now I stay here, now I am a fighter for the UFC. I said ‘Oh congratulations.'"
Little did he know that few years down the line, that same Russian fighter would go on to become the undefeated Lightweight Champion of UFC.
Romero would be keen to capture the middleweight title with a win against Adesanya in the main event of UFC 248 on Saturday, March 7, at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.Published 03 Mar 2020, 21:45 IST