UFC 221: Romero vs. Rockhold Recap
A recap of Saturday’s UFC 221 card in Perth, Australia.
Updated: Feb. 11, 2018 • 2:33 PM ET
Yoel Romero could be the next middleweight champion.
Yoel Romero secured his shot at the middleweight title by knocking out Luke Rockhold at UFC 221 in Perth, Australia on Saturday. Romero knocked out Rockhold in the third round via a vicious overhand left, followed by an uppercut once Rockhold hit the Octagon floor.
Rockhold had a good first round, landing several leg kicks and keeping his distance. Romero occasionally pushed forward early, but wasn’t able to seriously connect. One of the knocks on Romero has been his conditioning, but it was clear in Rounds 1 and 2 that he was conserving his energy.
Romero took the same approach in the third round, choosing his openings carefully. Rockhold continued landing leg kicks and combinations, but there was a certain buzz in the air that involved everyone watching and waiting for that signature moment of Romero explosion. Romero eased that tension in the third round with an overhand shot that came from another zip code.
The win was supposed to earn Romero the interim title, but he forfeited that chance after failing to make weight before the fight. He apologized after the victory.
“I want to say I am so sorry for cutting weight is so bad for me,” Romero said in his post-fight Octagon interview. “That is the first time in my career it shut my body down.”
Stepping in on short notice for injured champion Robert Whitaker, Romero improved his record to 13-2 and reminded everyone that he’s one of the best finishers in the division, despite being 40 years old. After the fight, UFC President Dana White confirmed that Romero would get the next shot at the title and redemption at Whitaker to ESPN’s Brett Okamoto. Whitaker defeated Romero at UFC 213 for the interim title last July and has since been named the official champion.
Rockhold has now lost two of his last three fights, and it’s difficult to determine where he goes from here. The former champion doesn’t fall to the back of the line, but this is his second devastating loss by knockout in his last three fights. It’s becoming clear to the rest of the division that the 33-year-old is vulnerable to damage when the fight is on the feet. Rockhold is still one of the most dangerous middleweight contenders in the world, but it’s hard for any fighter to come back from such traumatic losses in a strong division.
In UFC 221’s co-main event, heavyweight Curtis Blaydes shook off a big shot from Mark Hunt and ultimately won a unanimous decision over “The Super Samoan”. Hunt knocked Blaydes down in the opening round, but Blaydes weathered the storm by executing a takedown, which allowed him to recover from the damage.
Blaydes, a former Division II national champion wrestler, followed that takedown with nine more, as he cruised to the decision victory. Many fighters have tried to trade shots with Hunt, but most have been unsuccessful as he has won 10 fights by knockout.
“That was always my game plan,” Blaydes said in his post-fight press conference. “I am not a fool. I had no aspirations of standing and trying to bang with Mark Hunt so he can knock my head off.
“That was always the game plan. I am the better wrestler, why not use it? And I train in Denver, we’re a mile up in the air. There’s no elevation here in Perth, I knew I’d be the better conditioned athlete. I knew wrestling would gas him out a lot faster than standing and banging at his own pace, so I wanted to dictate where we went. On the feet, he’s a lion; on the ground, I’m a shark. I wanted to drag him into deep waters, and that’s what I did.”
After beating a living legend in Hunt, the 26-year-old Blaydes has now gone from prospect to serious threat in the heavyweight division. He entered the fight as the ninth-ranked heavyweight in the UFC, but the win could land him a shot against someone in the top three.
Hunt, 43 years old, has lost two of his last three fights, dropping his record to 13-12-1. He proved that he still has dangerous power, but with each fight, the question becomes is it time for Hunt to retire? If it happens now, or later, he’s still a fan favorite and a great ambassador for MMA.
other Main Card results
Tai Tuivasa def. Cyril Asker via KO/TKO (Round 1 - 2:18)
Jake Matthews def. Li Jingliang via unanimous decision
Tyson Pedro def. Saparbek Safarov via submission (kimura) (Round 1, 3:54)
Dong Hyun Kim def. Damian Brown via split decision
Israel Adesanya def. Rob Wilkinson via TKO (Round 2 - 3:32)
Alexander Volkanovski def. Jeremy Kennedy via TKO (Round 2 - 4:57)
Jussier Formiga def. Ben Nguyen via submission (rear-naked choke) (Round 3 - 1:43)
Ross Pearson def. Mizuto Hirota via unanimous decision
Jose Quinonez def. Teruto Ishihara via unanimous decision
Luke Jumeau def. Daichi Abe via unanimous decision