“What happened to you, USA? What happened to you? What’s going on? You forget the best of the best of the world. The name is Jesus Christ. What happened to you? Wake up, USA! Go, go back for you, go! Go for Jesus! No for gay [“forget”? – ed.] Jesus, people.”
– Yoel Romero, during his post-fight interview Saturday
Maybe UFC middleweight Yoel Romero simply misspoke during his post-fight interview this Saturday in Hollywood, Florida, because he was overwhelmed by the occasion. It isn’t every day a man who defected from Cuba wins by knockout in the main event of a UFC card in his adopted home country.
Maybe it was just lousy timing. Maybe Romero didn’t realize that 36 hours before his fight with Lyoto Machida, the Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage. Maybe he was too busy or too focused or too hungry to notice. Maybe if he had noticed he would have tempered his comments, aware of how easily they could have been misconstrued by a country still acclimating to earth-shaking news. Maybe he honestly believes America has lost its way as a general concept and he just forgot to take the significance of the historical moment into consideration. Maybe that kind of socio-political delicacy is too much to ask from a person who not five minutes earlier was getting punched in the face.
Maybe Romero was undone by the English language. Maybe he really meant to say, “No forget Jesus” and it came out sounding like “No for gay, Jesus,” and his hole was dug. After all, the “e” in Spanish is pronounced with the long “a” sound. According to Dr. Ted Henken, a scholar at Baruch College in Manhattan, Cubans commonly clip off the final consonants of words. And speech pathologist Jessica Lenden has pointed out that deletion of word-final consonants among ESL students from Spanish-speaking countries is common because most Spanish words end in either vowels or one of five consonants (d, l, n, r, s).
Or maybe Romero is cursed with the unreasonable ardor of the defector, demanding perfection from his new home after finding disappointment in his old.
Maybe the adrenal stress was getting to him. During an adrenaline rush the body redirects blood to the heart, lungs, and major muscle groups to ensure top physical performance, slowing down other functions, including critical thinking and communication skills, in the process. In fact, all other bodily functions suffer. Don’t forget, Romero once soiled his shorts in the middle of a UFC fight. Maybe he’s just particularly susceptible to the influence of adrenaline.
Maybe the problem started with his nickname, “Soldier of God.” When you’re a soldier, I bet everything looks like a war, even a TV interview.
Maybe Romero was a victim of an overzealous media perpetually angling to turn minor incident into major controversy. In America’s culture wars, any venue can become a battlefield at any moment. If this is the case, Romero isn’t allowed to be upset: To love America is to love the freedom of the press.
Maybe his comments were twisted and distorted by Twitter. It would hardly be the first time a celebrity’s words were misconstrued on social media before snowballing into calamity. If this is the case, Romero isn’t allowed to be upset: To love America is to love instantaneous hysterical online scattergun outrage.
Maybe Romero was tired of post-fight clichés. Maybe he just couldn’t bring himself to once again thank the UFC and salute the crowd and call out his next opponent and promise that we haven’t yet seen his best performance and lobby for a title shot and shout out his sponsors and praise god. Maybe Yoel Romero was just fed up with the imaginative limitations of the American athlete.
Maybe being interviewed right after a fight leads to some kind of hormone-fueled, energy-sapped cognitive dissonance the human brain can’t handle. Earlier this year, following a win at UFC Fight Night 63 in Fairfax, Virginia, featherweight Clay Guida said, apropos of nothing, that he hoped the reason President Obama hadn’t bothered to cross the Potomac River to watch the fights was because he was too busy “tending to our important united affairs.” At the same event, lightweight Al Iaquinta threatened and cursed at members of the crowd who were booing him after a split-decision loss to Jorge Masvidal. And after beating Victor Ortiz in 2011, pound-for-pound boxing king Floyd Mayweather nearly got into a fight with commentator Larry Merchant, who was 80-years-old at the time. “I wish I was 50 years younger and I’d kick your ass,” Merchant responded.
Maybe Romero actually sees a logical through-line between what he said in the cage that night and his explanation for what he said: "I would like to apologize if there was a misunderstanding," he said at the post-fight press conference, through an interpreter this time. "My expressions are always going to be about love. What I was trying to say in the Octagon was, live for the American dream. … What I was trying to say was, to the United States, thank you, for giving me the American dream. There is no better country, because it is blessed by God." Maybe he can actually make out the path from A to B.
Maybe he shows his love for a thing by yelling at it to stop fucking up in public.
Maybe in 2015 in America there’s no mixture more volatile than adrenaline, testosterone, cultural misapprehension, linguistic miscomprehension, religious mania, and a microphone.
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