The search for UFC 230’s main event was one of the biggest topics of MMA in 2018. A number of options fell through, including a rather obscure but interesting possibility: Alexander Gustafsson vs Yoel Romero.
The fall of 2018 saw the UFC in a mad dash to find a main event for their Madison Square Garden card in November. Since the UFC has been legalized in New York, they’ve traditionally held massive cards at the Garden, with main events including Conor McGregor and Georges St. Pierre in their first two events. However, the UFC failed at securing any main event up until the month prior to UFC 230. Eventually, that main event ended up being a Daniel Cormier title defense against Derrick Lewis.
However, there were many unique fights that were in discussion for the card that ultimately fell through, the weirdest of which certainly intriguing. Alexander Gustafsson and Yoel Romero were reportedly in talks for a light heavyweight showdown for the championship, possibly interim. Daniel Cormier was the 205-pound champion at the time but displayed no real interest in moving back down to the division where he was first champion before winning the heavyweight crown. The Romero/Gustafsson fight was one of the most interesting choices, mainly being because Romero would be leaving middleweight following a loss to Robert Whittaker, and two straight weight misses.
Alexander Gustafsson, on the other hand, was riding a two-fight win streak with victories over Glover Teixeira and Jan Blachowicz. Gus had been waiting for a title shot for a long time, having lost out one such opportunity to Volkan Oezdemir at UFC 220, and being stuck in limbo due to the fact that he’d already lost to the champion Cormier before. However that title shot against Romero would’ve given him the title shot he had been waiting for. It also would’ve helped take either Romero or Gustafsson off the list of best UFC fighters to never win a championship.
Yoel Romero still has that chance to get off that list, with an upcoming title shot against Israel Adesanya at UFC 248. However, it’s possible he would’ve never gone back down to middleweight if he had beaten Gustafsson at UFC 230. He likely would’ve faced Jon Jones following this, and that would have been a massive bout. Conversely, Gustafsson would’ve finally established himself as the king at light heavyweight, after so long being the bridesmaid he would’ve finally been the bride.
But instead, the fight never happened. Why? Well, there’s a multitude of reasons. Firstly, Jon Jones’ USADA suspension was shockingly reduced by 15 months. Jones being cleared gave an actual foe at light heavyweight for Gustafsson, one that he had a history with as well. Jones-Gustafsson 2 would gross more than Romero-Gustafsson, and it did very well financially. The sequel to Jones and Gustafsson’s original war did over 700,000 pay-per-view buys and did well at the gate considering the entire card was moved on one week’s notice due to Nevada refusing to license Jones because of his positive test. Picograms, and all that.
Romero, on the other hand, was dealing with an eye injury. Romero was eventually supposed to fight Paulo Costa on UFC 230, however, Romero pulled out due to that eye injury. Romero was officially cleared but was supposedly told by his doctor not to rush his return back, and so Romero didn’t end up fighting on the card after all. Instead he would end up fighting Paulo Costa a year later at UFC 241, where he would lose via decision. That loss would result in a title shot for Romero at UFC 248. That’s some turn of events.
In case you’re curious, the main event of UFC 230 ended up being about as anti-climatic as it possibly could be. Derrick Lewis was given the title shot against Daniel Cormier following a knockout win over Alexander Volkov the month prior, where he would utter the infamous phrase “my balls was hot” during the post-fight interview and become a viral internet star for all of two weeks. The UFC capitalized on his momentum by having Daniel Cormier sling around Lewis for a round and a half, before Cormier finished him with a choke.
We now get to see Yoel Romero try and erase his previous losses at UFC 248, and become UFC Middleweight champion. However win, lose, or draw, his fight against Gustafsson will go down as one of the weirdest fights that could’ve been.