While Conor McGregor was creating headlines for all the wrong reasons with his manic bus attack ahead of UFC 223 last weekend, two of the most dangerous men on the planet were on another bus quietly and respectfully going about their business.
With a rematch set for UFC 225 in Chicago on June 9 (June 10 in Australia), 185-pound champion Robert Whittaker and fearsome challenger Yoel Romero did the media rounds in New York last week. With the glass from the window that McGregor broke still lying on the pavement at the Barclays Center, Whittaker and Romero ironically found themselves stuck together on another bus heading to a press event.
Judging by the photo Whittaker shared to Instagram of the two of them, it looked like they could be mates.
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“That was from the bus for the guest fighters,” Romero told Sporting News of the pic.
“When I got on the bus, it was full. There were no more seats and the only seat I had was with Robert. I asked if I could sit here and he said: ‘no problem.’
“Robert’s a good guy. He’s an amazing fighter and a beautiful person.”
They’ve fought each other before, are at the very top of their division and are getting ready to scrap again, but there was no beef, no malice, and no fake animosity.
When asked about the difference between their pre-fight build-up and McGregor’s actions in Brooklyn, Romero breaks it down simply.
“I don’t have nothing personal with anybody. With anybody ,” he said.
“You fight the fight but the person is a person.
“Khabib is Kabib. Conor is Conor. Robert is Robert and I’m me. We’re different.
“I thank God I don’t have a problem with any person. Nobody wants to have a problem with another person. I don’t want it either.”
It’s a refreshing approach shared by Whittaker, who will be defending his middleweight title for the first time.
“I really like Yoel – he’s a down to earth guy,” Australia and New Zealand’s first UFC champion told Sporting News .
“He’s respectful, he’s nice, and I like him as a person.
“That’s not going to stop me when it comes time to do what I do. But it doesn’t hurt to have a guy who’s respectful.”
In their first bout, at UFC 213 in Las Vegas last year, Whittaker earned a hard-fought unanimous decision win with a badly injured knee.
After dropping the first two rounds, the Sydney-sider stormed home in the final 15-minutes to raise more questions about 40-year-old Romero’s cardio and stamina.
But Whittaker rubbishes that talk.
“I don’t think he has any problem with his gas-tank,” Whittaker said.
“He just goes from super non-human explosiveness levels, to bringing it back down to normal.
“The disparity between those two is what makes it looks like he gassed.
“Definitely he slows down, but his gas tank isn’t a problem. Most of his knockouts have come in the third round.
“He just comes back down to normal.”
Romero doesn’t know why his cardio is still a topic of conversation, but he isn’t concerned with it.
“I don’t know. I don’t know. You need to ask the people,” he said.
“You need to see who’s saying it and ask them. But it’s ok. I don’t have a problem. It’s ok with me. I have no problem.”
Whittaker was scheduled to compete for Australia in wrestling at the Commonwealth Games this month but was forced out to focus on his title defence. A former Olympic Games wrestling silver medallist, Romero is happy to hear that Whittaker will be an even trickier opponent in June.
“I feel good. If he’s doing something like this, it means the fight gets tougher,” he said.
“So I have to go and do more wrestling, because the fight will be tougher.
“I’m tougher now than I was, but I want him tougher too, so the people can see a real fight.
“Nobody will have an advantage. Nobody. We need to fight.
“He has two hands, I have two hands. He has two legs, I have two legs. We need to fight. That’s it.”