The UFC continues its underwhelming start to 2018 this Saturday night as MMA’s biggest promotion goes down under in Perth, Australia for UFC 221. From the PPV event starting out with a rumoured middleweight unification bout between Georges St-Pierre and Robert Whittaker on the cards, UFC 221 has ended up with yet another interim title being created, two fighters completely unrelated to the Oceanic region in the main event and only one of those viable to win UFC gold.
With a heroes reception for middleweight champion Robert Whittaker stricken from the card through various illnesses, Luke Rockhold and Yoel Romero will now vie for the opportunity to take on Whittaker at a later date although only Rockhold made the 185 lbs limit. The rest of the card is filled with bouts of little importance and little star power in the grand scheme of things but fortunately for the UFC, MMA fans are a passionate bunch and where there are fights, they will be watched.
With the breakdowns of the main card to come, a special mention is needed for some particularly interesting preliminary card action. With two different but equally exciting prospects set to be featured, Israel Adesanya and Alexander Volkanovski are two fighters with big upsides. In Volkanovski, you have a well-rounded and dominant featherweight while UFC debutant Israel ‘The Stylebender’ Adesanya was one of kickboxing’s most exciting stars and now holds a 12-0 MMA record with all of his wins coming by knockout. Opening up the prelims though will be a UFC trademark; an important flyweight bout in Jussier Formiga vs Ben Nguyen not featured on the PPV portion of the card.
Yoel Romero (12-2) vs Luke Rockhold (16-3)
Romero – Rockhold is a brilliant fight but to the chagrin of American fans under the PPV model, this is the only fight worth any money.
While looking at both fighters skillsets, you’d have to favour Rockhold on paper. With a more tried and tested gas tank under his belt, a kicking game amongst the best in the UFC and with his scrambles and submission game criminally underrated, Rockhold is one of the best offensive fighters in MMA.
Where Romero will take heed, however, is Rockhold’s shaky defence and his tendency to start slow. From losing his title to Michael Bisping due to carrying his hands low, Rockhold went on to have a brief spell of trouble against David Branch when backed up to the cage. With Romero’s explosive power and unorthodox Cuban striking, it’s just as easy to see Romero land a fight-ending blow as it is to see Rockhold coast over five rounds.
Ultimately, I think with Rockhold having more paths to victory you have to side with the former champion picking up the needed rounds although questions will be looming over the durability of Rockhold compared to what Romero has shown in the past.
Pick: Luke Rockhold
Mark Hunt (13-11-1, 1 NC) vs Curtis Blaydes (8-1, 1 NC)
If Blaydes has any smarts about him, he’ll turn this bout into the conventional wrestler vs striker match-up.
It’s unequivocal that Hunt has the better of his younger opponent on the feet but Hunt’s recent losses, the Overeem knockout excluded, have come due to takedowns or the threat of them. Blaydes is an active fighter when it comes to takedowns but whether he can avoid Hunt’s strikes getting in close is another question.
Much like the Romero – Rockhold fight, it’s just as easy to see one fighter win wide on the scorecards as it is a knockout for the other but with Hunt only losing to elite heavyweights since his career turnaround and the Australian crowd behind him, I’ll tentatively side with ‘The Super Samoan’.
Pick: Mark Hunt
Tai Tuivasa (8-0) vs Cyril Asker (9-3)
This bout has been tailor-made for a Tuivasa knockout.
Asker is a decent grappler but has been knocked out by Jared Cannonier who isn’t the biggest light heavyweight. Tuivasa is impressively quick at heavyweight and packs a mighty wallop which spells disaster for Asker.
Pick: Tai Tuivasa
Jake Matthews (12-3) vs Li Jingliang (14-4)
Jake Matthews is a well-rounded competitor but when faced up against better opposition, he has come unstuck.
Li Jingliang meanwhile has the characteristics needed to trouble Matthews as his forward pressure and heavy-hitting should be enough to keep his win streak going.
Pick: Li Jingliang
Tyson Pedro (6-1) vs Saparbek Safarov (8-1)
While Tyson Pedro suffered a dominating loss to Ilir Latifi in his last outing, Pedro is still young enough to bounce back in a big way and build upon his already impressive game.
Pedro hits hard and has a good ground game that can cause problems while Safarov looked limited in his bout with Gian Villante before being stopped.
I’d expect Pedro to get the main card rolling with a stoppage win in his home country.
Pick: Tyson Pedro
(Last Predictions: 3/6, Total: 10/19, 53% Success Rate)
(2017: 60% Success Rate)