Yoel Romero stunned by UFC release, eyed title shot

Yoel Romero said his release from the UFC was "completely unexpected," explaining that he was training with the hope he would be one or two wins from another title shot.

Instead, Romero will now work toward getting a shot at a Bellator title, and he said there's a "huge possibility" his debut for his new promotion will be against another ex-UFC star, Anthony "Rumble" Johnson.

"I was already in training, very hard, getting ready," Romero told ESPN's Ariel Helwani through an interpreter. "We were already thinking about fighting in January or February in 185 [pounds] or 205. We were looking to fight with the top three in either division.

"My managers explained this to the top of the UFC. [The UFC] wanted [me] to fight with Uriah Hall, Derek Brunson. We explained that it didn't make sense for [me] to fight with these young men. We had an idea we were chasing the world title. The way we were training, we knew we had one or two fights and then go for the belt. Our thought was fighting any of these guys in the back of the roster was taking steps backwards, not forwards."

Romero was once considered one of the top middleweights in the world, but the 43-year-old Cuban fighter has lost four of his past five bouts.

UFC president Dana White announced Romero's release on Dec. 4. White also said the UFC will probably have 60 cuts before the first of the year.

Romero challenged middleweight champ Israel Adesanya on March 7, losing a unanimous decision in what turned out to be his last UFC fight. Romero's defensive tactics in that bout were met with criticism, as the fight lacked much offense.

Romero was hoping to fight the winner of the Nov. 7 light heavyweight bout between Thiago Santos and Glover Teixeira, who won by third-round submission.

"They came back with an offer for us to fight Johnny Walker at 205," Romero said. "My managers initially were saying who we wanted: Dominick Reyes, Glover, Santos and Anthony Smith. And it was back and forth, kind of quiet on their end; and once they reached back, it was we couldn't come to an agreement and they were going to commit to the release."

Romero signed a multifight deal with Bellator on Dec. 14.

Speculation is for Romero and Johnson to face each other in their Bellator debuts in the light heavyweight division.

"At 205, Bellator has a huge amount of incredible athletes," Romero said. "There's a lot of prospects. There's a lot of opportunities. To throw a name out there right now is pure speculation. There's a lot of things going on behind the scenes that I'm not supposed to speak about, that I can't say yet.

"But there's a huge possibility, a 90 percent chance, that he'll be the first one to face Yoel Romero."

Asked Wednesday by ESPN about the prospect of being the chosen opponent for Romero's Bellator debut, Johnson replied: "I have the utmost respect for Yoel. If we fight, we fight. I look forward to it, if it happens."

Information from ESPN's Brett Okamoto was used in this report.