Sunday morning went about as well as it possibly could for UFC middleweight contender Yoel Romero.
He needed it after a brutal Saturday nearly left him without a fight at UFC 221, which took place early Sunday in Perth, Australia.
Romero wasn’t able to make weight for his scheduled interim title bout against Luke Rockhold, even after he was granted two extra hours to get down to the 185-pound limit.
Tense negotiations followed between Rockhold and the UFC. Even after it was agreed Romero would forfeit 30 percent of his purse and be ineligible to win the belt, there were questions about whether he would be medically cleared after the weight cut.
Once the fight started, Romero was just fine.
He knocked Rockhold out with a pair of huge left hands in the third round. The news got even better once he got to the hospital.
Romero believed he had suffered a broken right leg as a result of several hard kicks from Rockhold. Doctors, however, informed him there was no fracture.
Once he’s healthy, that should free him to rematch Robert Whittaker for the middleweight belt. UFC officials said even though he didn’t capture the interim belt, Romero is next in line for the title.
Whittaker first won the interim belt with a win over Romero in July. He was promoted to champion when Georges St. Pierre abandoned the title, and Whittaker was to make his first defense this weekend in his home country of Australia, but was forced off the card due to illness.
Romero, who had been scheduled to fight on the UFC on Fox 28 card in Florida on Feb. 24, at least partially blamed the change for his failed weight cut.
“Do you seriously think that if I would have been fighting in Orlando that I would have had this issue?” Romero said on the Fox Sports 1 postfight show.
He was unable to attend the news conference because he was transported to the hospital.
The former Olympic silver medal-winning wrestler was pleased with his performance. The complications with his weight cut led to speculation his oft-maligned conditioning posed even more of an issue, but Romero still had plenty in the tank to get the job done in the third round.
“I felt very good,” he said. “We trained very hard for this fight, we trained very good for this fight. We had six-, seven-round sparrings. I had no worries whatsoever in terms of cardio.”
Rockhold, a former middleweight champion, has now suffered knockout losses in two of his last three fights.
“Respect to Yoel that man is made of steel,” he posted on Twitter after the loss.
Romero is expected to challenge Whittaker for the belt later this year.
UFC Fight Night 126
Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone will look to snap a three-fight losing streak when he takes on welterweight Yancy Medeiros in the main event of UFC Fight Night 126 in Austin, Texas, on Sunday.
Cerrone has been knocked out twice in that stretch, including in October against Darren Till.
He will headline a 6 p.m. card on Fox Sports 1 that also includes fan favorites Derrick Lewis and Sage Northcutt.
Lewis will look to bounce back from a June loss to Mark Hunt that snapped a six-fight winning streak as he takes on Marcin Tybura.
Northcutt will look to build on a solid November win over Michel Quiñones when he meets lightweight Thibault Gouti.
The preliminary card airs on Fox Sports 1 at 4 p.m.
Locals in action at Bellator 194
Cimarron-Memorial alum Roy Nelson’s opening-round fight in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix will headline the organization’s card in Uncasville, Connecticut on Friday.
His rematch against Matt Mitrione will serve as the main event of the 6 p.m. card on Paramount.
Nelson knocked out Mitrione in the first round of a 2012 UFC bout in Las Vegas.
The tournament will take place throughout the the year. This is the second quarterfinal matchup. Chael Sonnen moved on to the semifinals with a win over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson last month.
Also on the card, Ana Julaton will take on Heather Hardy in a flyweight matchup of champion female boxers who have made the transition to MMA.
Julaton, who trains in Las Vegas, was the WBO and IBA super bantamweight champion.
As part of the agreement, Julaton and Hardy will then meet in the boxing ring later this year.