Clarification on Yoel Romero’s controversial post-fight speech by a Miami native

It’s been a few days since Cuban Olympic silver gold medalist turned UFC middleweight contender Yoel “Soldier of God” Romero all but confirmed what many had been dreading since April: that fan favorite fighter Lyoto Machida has indeed lost a step and, since his style relies so heavily on reflexes and speed, his career is in steep decline.

However, instead of holding a solemn vigil for “The Dragon” of yesteryear, almost all talk of UFC Fight Night 70 has degenerated into a kerfuffle over Romero’s post-fight speech. Watch the video below and look beneath it for the transcript, which is agreed upon almost uniformly except for the final five words, which we will discuss momentarily.

“I want to say something. Maybe I’m trying English. So sorry I no… that people understand me, but I’m trying. Hey, UFC! Hey, Miami! Hey, Florida! Listen people! Listen, listen! Listen! What happened to you, USA? What happened to you? What’s going on? You forget for the best of the best of the world: the name of Jesus Christ. What happened to you? Wake up, USA! Go! Go back for you, go. Go for Jesus.”

Those last two seconds—those last five words—have been all anyone has been talking about since. Did he say “Not forget Jesus, people” or “Not for Gay Jesus, people?” Had we just seen a top UFC contender go on a homophobic tirade, or was this some relatively innocuous call to the cross blown out of proportion due to his tenuous grasp on the English language?

MMA Sucka’s Mike Fagan put it rather perfectly: “MMA had its ‘gold or blue dress’ moment” and Twitter erupted with decent, impassioned arguments from both ends of the table.

Among those supporting “Team Not for Gay Jesus” were respected writer Jonathan Snowden of Bleacher Report (who observantly called attention to the fact that Romero fully pronounced the T in “forget” earlier in his speech but didn’t do so at the end—something more than a few considered damning evidence, but something I’ll address later), local MMA personality Rodolfo Roman (whose fast-tracked Miami Herald article left zero room for ambiguity, reporting “Gay Jesus” as a matter of fact) and fellow UFC fighter Elias Theodorou (who seemed less concerned with syntax and vowel sounds, pointing to timing instead: “So it’s a coincidence Yoel asks USA “what happened?” a day after biggest social ruling since civil rights act?” [sic]).

Similarly, “Team Not Forget Jesus” had its own adherents, including writers Ben Fowlkes of MMA Junkie and Jason Floyd of the MMA Report, manager Malki Kawa (who said as much on the night of the fight and afterwards, when he had the opportunity to speak with Romero in person) and World Series of Fighting lightweight Nick Newell.

For most of us in South Florida, the call was far easier to make.

There are only five vowel pronunciations in Spanish and they go as follows: A = ah; E = eh; I = ee; O = oh; and U = oo. That’s it. For English speakers this information makes it incredibly easy to properly pronounce words in Spanish, but one of the biggest hurdles Spanish-to-English speakers have to jump (besides developing a decent vocabulary) is incorporating the comparatively more complex vowel spectrum into their English pronunciation. It’s not at all uncommon for multiple pronunciations of the same word to appear in conversation in the same way that people unsure of a word’s spelling will sometimes use multiple spellings in an essay with the rationale that at least one of the versions will be correct. (Announcer Mike Goldberg has long made this his go-to approach for pronouncing fighter names.)

Broken English by Spanish speakers—improper pronunciation, conjugation, syntax, trailing off at the end of words (especially in the middle of sentences) or even adding letters to words to make them seem similar to the speaker’s native tongue—lends towards all sorts of unintentionally hilarious miscommunications. “Dunkin’ Donuts,” becomes “Donkey Donas,” “peanuts” become “penis” (seriously), and “jury duty” comes off sounding like an awful gastrointestinal malady: “hooty doodie.” Later this year, many moviegoers will flock to Miami theaters to see the next chapter in “Estar Gwars,” directed by “Yay Yay Aybram.”

Spanglish, the unofficial language of South Florida, is hardly a new phenomenon and is typically met, at worst, with dismissive amusement. Watch the video below, then re-watch the video above and tell me again what you think Romero said.

A couple more notes about Romero’s speech:

  • When he said “maybe I’m trying English,” he pronounced the G at the end of “trying.” A few seconds later, when he said “that people understand me, but I’m trying,” the G is no longer pronounced. Could that have also been the case with the T at the end of “forget” 30 seconds further into the clip?
  • But look! He seemed to have problems pronouncing the T even before the infamous “Gay Jesus” moment. When he said “you forget the best of the best of the world,” he managed to hit the Ts at the end of each of those words in rapid succession. However, when he reaches the subject of his fervent adoration, he calls him “Jesus Cry.” Go ahead and check it out again. It’s at :34. I’ll wait right here.

So is he calling Jesus gay and a crybaby? C’mon now… let’s not be foolish here.

Context is extremely important, of course, and the timing of Romero’s bombastic outburst could be more than mere coincidence. He probably wasn’t speaking out against universal healthcare or the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Maybe he was indeed referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage just a day earlier. It’s no secret that those most opposed to marriage equality have conservative religious views and few names evoke passionate conservative Christianity like “Soldier of God.”

But, then again, maybe he wasn’t. There are many other secular or non-Christian aspects of American society and countless awful occurrences of violence that he could have been speaking about. Police brutality, mass murder, rising wealth inequality, a protracted foreign war… There’s so much to talk out against these days, isn’t there?

But the reality is he didn’t mention gay marriage even once. In fact, he wasn’t specifically talking about anything—and go back again and watch the 45 second clip if you need to—except that the U.S.A. needs more J-E-S-U-S because he’s “the best of the best of the world.”

And who can argue with that, Gabby Johnson?

When asked to clarify his position, Romero backtracked a little before changing the gist of it altogether, which is unsurprising. He’s a fighter, not a great orator. By the time he was escorted to the post-fight press conference he’d likely weathered criticism and queries and from all sides regarding what he meant and opted to retract his vague criticism of the U.S. completely in favor of a message about love—because who doesn’t like love, right?

Maybe we’ll never truly know what Romero really meant. Something tells me he didn’t really know himself and was doing his best Christian remix of “Forgot about Dre.” We’re becoming a more and more tolerant culture. More people today than ever before are choosing to embrace difference and shun hate. It’d be grossly hypocritical to condemn a person based on what you assume they meant.

Move along. Nothing to see here.

(Slider image: UFC.com)

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Jesse Scheckner

A freelance MMA, entertainment and business journo born, raised and residing in Miami, FL, Jesse Scheckner is a former semi-serious musician, cinephile and recovering ne’er-do-well who still believes Mickey Rourke’s finest performance in film has yet to come. He is TuffGnarl.com's editor-in-chief, a feature staff writer for MMASucka.com and the 2014 MMA Media Correspondent winner at the Florida MMA Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner to talk about the stuff he writes about with him.

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