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One-Eared Native Boxer Killing It in MMA

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Tat Romero, a welterweight who has Metis Michif/Apache ancestry, has a 24-5 professional record. And he's on a six-fight winning streak. The 34-year-old will step back into the ring on Mar. 6 to battle Benjamin Smith in the main event of a Resurrection Fighting Alliance (RFA) card at the Mystic Casino in Prior Lake, MN.

Though he's been victorious in his last half-dozen bouts, Romero, who had been fighting for various lower-profile organizations, admits he was contemplating retirement before he got the RFA fight. "For the past two years, I have kind of felt like I was in the playoffs of my career," he said. "I felt, if I lose again, there just isn't enough time to accumulate enough wins to make it to the Big Show. To me, the RFA is the Big Show."

Since his competitive fires have now been rekindled with his upcoming bout, Romero said he also has not given up hope of making it to the sport's ultimate level and having a fight with the premier MMA organization, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). "That would be the icing on the cake for me," he said. "If it turns out I win this fight and the UFC came calling, I would take that fight. But if they don't, I'm not going to lose sleep over it."

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The fact that Romero, a former North Dakota high school state wrestling champion, has excelled in sports might come as a surprise to some. That's because he was born without an outer right ear. He does have a right eardrum but no opening. Thus, since birth he has been 50 per cent deaf. When he was born doctors told his mother that he would in all likelihood have mental developmental issues and that he would struggle with walking or anything to do with balance. But that was never the case. "There are times I struggle with hearing, but very seldomly when I'm in the cage," he said.

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Tat Romero

Romero said attaching a prosthetic ear when he was younger was not an option. "We couldn't do anything until I was done growing," he said. When that point arrived, Romero and his family had a difficult decision to make. He was told any ear surgery he had would probably result in balance and walking difficulties that he would have to learn to overcome. "As a family we decided not to do anything about it," he said. "I've accepted it. Now if people don't know my name, at least they know I'm the guy with one ear."

Smith, who is from Las Vegas, will enter next month's bout sporting a 10-2 record. Romero has seen videos of some of Smith's previous fights. "I know he's really tough and he's a grinder," Romero said. "And he has a strong wrestling background like me. But I'm pretty confident I can beat him. I'm confident I can beat anybody.

"I don't think he's fought anybody as gritty as me," he said.

The Mystic Casino event will be televised on AXS TV. For Romero, this will mark the first time in his career that he has fought on a live broadcast.