UFC’s Yoel Romero ‘always going to hurt’ after decision to leave Cuba

Yoel Romero defected from Cuba to Germany in 2007.

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

An hour rarely goes by when Yoel Romero doesn’t think about all he has left behind.

The UFC middleweight contender defected from Cuba to Germany in 2007 following a wrestling tournament in the country. Romero had relatives who lived in Germany and also knew it would be hard for him to pursue an MMA career had he remained in Cuba.

When he relocated, though, Romero had to say goodbye to his mother, father and a child.

"It’s never going to stop hurting," Romero told FOX Sports in a recent interview through an interpreter. "It’s always going to hurt."

Romero’s story is unlike some others. He calls his defection "pretty simple." Romero competed in a wrestling tournament in Germany and ended up staying there for years. He met a woman there and married her. They had a daughter.

But if Romero, 37, wanted to continue his MMA journey, he had to move to the United States. The competition level in Germany and nearby Poland was weak. Romero, with his Olympic wrestling silver medal pedigree and boxing experience, was rapidly becoming a big fish in a small pond.

It’s never going to stop hurting. It’s always going to hurt.

-Yoel Romero

"I love Germany," Romero said. "Unfortunately I had to leave, because there wasn’t any MMA clubs where I could train and continue to learn there."

That brought him to American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla. Romero, his wife and daughter live in nearby Miami, which is a great fit for him, since there is a large Cuban and Hispanic community.

Being at ATT has helped "Soldier of God" become a top UFC middleweight. Romero (9-1) is ranked No. 6 among 185-pounders in the organization. After knocking out Tim Kennedy at UFC 178 on Sept. 27, Romero could be just one win away from a title shot.

His goal since starting MMA was to become a UFC champion, but Romero has another goal, too, and that’s to be reunited with the people he is missing in Cuba.

"Of course, I plan on becoming an American citizen and bringing over my family," Romero said.

Though he is closer to 40 years old now than he is 30, Romero is still evolving, as a fighter and as a person. Following UFC 178, Romero conducted multiple interviews in English for the first time. Learning the language is important to him. When he lived in Germany, he learned to speak fluent German and he is applying himself currently to English.

"I need it for my job, I need it for the fans," Romero told FOX Sports in English. "I want to, when I say things on TV, to talk to the people in English. That’s the respect of the people in the country you live."

Romero is well on his way to becoming a full-fledged American. But he’ll always keep his pride for Cuba and the memories of leaving there — even if his family joins him in Miami one day.

"It’s something that will continuously hurt the rest of my life," Romero said.