The most anticipated first-round matchup of the eight-man Bellator MMA Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix is no more after Yoel Romero was pulled from his May 7 promotional debut against fellow newcomer Anthony "Rumble" Johnson.
The 43-year-old Romero (13-5), a former two-time UFC middleweight title challenger, did not clear pre-fight medical testing and was forced to withdraw from the tournament, Bellator officials confirmed Thursday to CBS Sports (Bellator and CBS Sports are both owned by ViacomCBS). The nature of Romero's issue was not disclosed. The promotion said it will name a tournament alternate to face Johnson (22-6) in his quarterfinal bout as soon as possible, although it remains uncertain whether that fight will remain on the card that is just eight days away.
Bellator 258 will go on as scheduled from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET) and is headlined by bantamweight champion Juan Archuleta against Sergio Pettis. Johnson, himself a former two-time UFC light heavyweight title challenger, was originally scheduled for the co-main event with the winner set to advance to the semifinals against reigning 205-pound champion Vadim Nemkov.
"Romero will become eligible to reapply for clearance to compete in the coming months, and we look forward to seeing him make his Bellator debut in the near future," Bellator said in a statement. "Bellator MMA will look to reschedule the highly anticipated Johnson versus Romero matchup at a future date."
A silver medalist for Cuba at the 2000 Olympics, Romero made big headlines in December when he signed a multi-fight deal with Bellator one week after Johnson did the same. Two months later, the Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix was announced with Bellator president Scott Coker making the strategic decision to pair his big name free agents against one another in the opening round rather than leave such a unique matchup to chance.
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Originally scheduled for April 16, the bout was moved shortly after to May 7 and remained a fan and critics' choice given the potential for fireworks between the two sluggers and the distinct questions both faced coming in.
Johnson shared his disappointment in an Instagram post on Friday morning.
"[Heart breaks] with the news but whatever the issue is I hope Yoel gets back on his feet and able to compete again very soon. Sorry to the fans for the disappointment."
Romero, an ageless wonder who dropped a handful of close decisions in competitive fights against UFC's 185-pound elite before his release on Dec. 4, was moving back up to 205 pounds for the first time since 2011. He last fought in March 2020 when he dropped a disputed decision over five rounds against UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.
The 37-year-old Johnson, meanwhile, was set to return to active competition for the first time in four years following a self-imposed retirement. Despite a pair of UFC title losses to Daniel Cormier, Johnson holds victories at light heavyweight against the likes of Phil Davis, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alexander Gustafsson, Ryan Bader and Glover Teixeira.
During a virtual press conference with the media on Wednesday, Johnson gave Romero high praise by calling him "the most dangerous fighter" he will have ever faced.
In addition to Nemkov advancing on two weeks ago in the 205-pound tournament, former champion Ryan Bader will face Corey Anderson in other semifinal bout later this year.
The Bellator 258 main card next weekend will also feature welterweights Michael "Venom" Page against Derek Anderson and a lightweight bout pairing hard-hitting Patricky "Pitbull" Freire against Peter Queally.