UFC middleweight champion Israel (The Last Stylebender) Adesanya has apologized for saying he will make UFC 248 challenger Yoel (Soldier of God) Romero "crumble like the Twin Towers."
The Nigerian-born New Zealand-based mixed martial arts fighter made the comment Friday in Auckland at a news conference to promote their March 7 title fight in Las Vegas.
Adesanya was in Auckland while Romero, the No. 3 contender at 185 pounds, was participating via video hookup.
Asked why he wanted to fight Romero, Adesanya said it was because everyone else was afraid of him and he didn't understand why.
"He's human like anyone else," said Adesanya. "Everyone likes to make this myth like 'Oh he's steel, like kicking steel' or you hit him and he doesn't fall. I'll touch him enough times, I'll touch him enough times and eventually he'll crumble like the Twin Towers."
The comment drew a mixed reaction from the crowd.
"Too soon?" said Adesanya.
The 30-year-old champion apologized via social media Sunday, prefacing it by saying "I never made a joke about people dying or made light of the tragic event that was 9/11."
"I was simply rambling and my brain worked faster than my mouth in a moment to choose the wrong euphemism," he added. "You speak on the mic enough times and you're bound to miss the mark with some bars.
"I did on this one and for that I'm sorry, I'll be more careful in future with my words."
Adesanya (18-0-0) won the interim middleweight title in April 2019 when he earned a decision over Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 236. He then knocked out champion Robert Whittaker last October at UFC 243 for his seventh straight UFC win.
Romero (13-4-0) has lost three of his last four fights, beaten last time out by Brazil's Paulo Henrique Costa and twice by Whitaker. He won his first eight fights in the UFC.
A former Olympic silver medallist and world champion in wrestling for Cuba, the 42-year-old Romero now trains in the U.S.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2020.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press