UFC 221: Romero vs. Rockhold Preview
A preview of Saturday’s UFC 221 card in Perth, Australia.
Updated: Feb. 8, 2018 • 7:09 PM ET
Yoel Romero is looking to bounce back from his first loss since 2011.
Update: Yoel Romero failed to make weight for the main event and will not be able to win the UFC interim middleweight title.
The UFC is once again invading Australia for UFC 221 in Perth this Saturday. The main event will feature an interim middleweight title fight between No. 1 ranked Yoel Romero and No. 2 Luke Rockhold.
Rockhold was originally scheduled to face champion Robert Whitaker for the middleweight title, but Whitaker withdrew from the fight in early January due to injury. Romero promptly stepped in on short notice and will once again fight for an interim title.
Rockhold is a former middleweight champion and has longed for another shot at the title since shockingly losing the belt to Michael Bisping at UFC 199. He dominated David Branch in September with a second round knockout after much-needed time off. It was Rockhold’s first fight since losing the title in June 2016, and he proved once again that if a fight goes to the ground and he gets top position, he’s hard to stop.
Romero may look intimidating, but Rockhold vows to prove that the Cuban isn’t on his level.
“I know Yoel believes in himself,” Rockhold told MMAjunkie last month. “I know he is almost overconfident at times. I think he doesn’t really understand where the dangers are I pose to him. I know what he is and what he’s capable of, but I’m going to give this guy more than he can handle. I’m going to shut him down. I’m willing to go deeper than he’ll ever go.
“Some people act the part. Some people talk the part. But to be the part, to go there and to get into those moments, I’ve never been outdone. I’m willing to go deeper and darker than any of these motherfuckers. Yoel can look it, and he can act it, but I’ll bring it out of him, and I’ll push this thing to a different world that he’s not ready for.”
Rockhold has key victories over Bisping, Chris Weidman, Lyoto Machida, Ronaldo Souza and Branch.
Romero hasn’t fought since losing to Whitaker for the interim middleweight title at UFC 213 last July. The fight was a great back-and-forth battle, but Romero failed to match Whitaker’s intensity and cardio for five rounds. The 40-year-old Romero has long been one of the most feared fighters in the division, but what Whitaker exposed with Romero was his inability to fight effectively in later rounds.
Romero has been accused more than once of taking his time in between rounds to catch his breath, which is considered to be a form of cheating. In a fight with Tim Kennedy in 2014, he blatantly refused to get up from his stool after being badly hurt in the previous round. He went on to win the fight by knockout, but not without a swarm of controversy. Romero was seen taking the same approach against Chris Weidman at UFC 205, to which Weidman and his corner quickly noticed and complained about.
The early rounds still continue to be when Romero is most dangerous, so many expect him to have the advantage early in the fight. However, the later rounds should belong to Rockhold if the fight gets there. Romero has key victories over Weidman, Souza, Machida, Kennedy and Derek Brunson.
UFC 221’s co-main event will be a heavyweight showdown between No. 5 Mark Hunt and No. 9 Curtis Blaydes. The 43-year-old Hunt has been at the center of controversy ever since his loss to Brock Lesnar at UFC 200. He has been outspoken on steroid use in the heavyweight division after Lesnar failed a drug test and was suspended, resulting in their fight being ruled a no contest.
After concerns arose regarding his health, stemming from a first-person narrative, the UFC then pulled Hunt from UFC Fight Night Sydney in November. Hunt believes the words he wrote for PlayersVoice last July were taken out of context after saying in the editorial that he slurred his words and that his “memory is not that good anymore.”
“It was not nice to get pulled from the Sydney card,” Hunt said via Fight New Australia. “A few words taken out of context was what it was but you know, it just added six months to my contract. There’s nothing wrong with me clearly, I just want to compete.
“The key word they missed out on was sometimes. Sometimes probably when I just woke up or probably just finished doing a hard two-hour session and then when you ask me a question I mumble like fuck off or something like that. A few sentences taken out of context, I’m fine.”
Hunt is coming off a fourth round knockout victory over Derrick Lewis in June, which was a great rebound from his knockout loss to Alistair Overeem at UFC 209 last March. He has key victories over Lewis, Frank Mir, Antonio Silva, Roy Nelson and Ben Rothwell. A win over a top prospect such as Blaydes will once again remind the fight world that the “Super Samoan” isn’t going anywhere and is still a threat.
Blaydes is 3-1 with one no contest in the UFC and has shown tremendous promise. The 26-year-old is coming off a second round TKO doctor’s stoppage over Aleksei Oleinik at UFC 217 in November. The victory, during which he displayed improvements in his all-around game, was Blaydes’ second straight win. He sees the fight with Hunt as his greatest opportunity yet.
“I’m appreciative that the UFC’s gonna give me the chance to fight a living legend,” Blaydes said at a recent UFC media event. “I wasn’t expecting it so soon, but I’m happy they did it. I’m looking forward to putting on a show.
“My hands have gotten a lot better, and I know his hands are very dangerous, but my hands, plus my wrestling, I think it’s a great fight.”
Blaydes continued, “I’ve always respected Mark Hunt, I don’t have the style, obviously, but you can’t help respect a guy who’s been doing it for as long as he has at the level he has. I know he doesn’t have the best record, but everyone knows he only fights the best of the best.”
Blaydes will make major noise in the rankings with a win over Hunt and would possibly be set up nicely for a fight with someone in the top three of the division.
Rest of the main card
The rest of the main card will be highlighted by a heavyweight fight between undefeated Australian Tai Tuivasa and Cyril Asker. The 24-year-old Tuivasa made an impressive UFC debut in November with a first round knockout victory over Rashad Coulter. Asker, who is 2-2 in the UFC, is coming off a second round submission win over Hu Yaozong in November.
The main card will also feature a welterweight fight between Australian Jake Matthews and Li Jingliang. The 23-year-old Matthews, who is 5-3 in the UFC, is coming off a split decision victory over Bojan Velickovic in November. Jingliang (6-2 in the UFC) is riding a four-fight win streak with his most recent being a first round knockout of Zak Ottow in November.
Rounding out the main card will be a light heavyweight fight between Australian No. 13 Tyson Pedro and Saparbek Safarov. Pedro, who is trying to avenge a decision loss to Ilir Latifi at UFC 215 in September, is 2-1 in the UFC. Safarov made his UFC debut in December and lost by knockout in the second round to Gian Villante.
Lightweight fight - Damien Brown vs. Dong Hyun Kim
Middleweight fight - Rob Wilkinson vs. Israel Adesanya
Featherweight fight - Alexander Volkanovski vs. Jeremy Kennedy
Flyweight fight - No. 4 Jussier Formiga vs. No. 8 Ben Nguyen
UFC Fight Pass Early Prelims
Lightweight fight - Ross Pearson vs. Mizuto Hirota
Bantamweight fight - Teruto Ishihara vs. Jose Quinonez
Welterweight fight - Luke Jumeau vs. Daichi Abe