Preview of UFC 221 main card bouts

Updated February 9, 2018 - 9:33 pm

A breakdown of the fights on the main card of UFC 221 on Saturday at Perth Arena in Perth, Australia, with picks from the Review-Journal’s Adam Hill and Heidi Fang:

Yoel Romero (12-2) vs. Luke Rockhold (16-3)

Class: Middleweight

Line: Rockhold -150

Storyline: Rockhold appeared headed for a lengthy run as middleweight champion when he was stunned by 10-1 underdog Michael Bisping in June 2016. Rockhold then took a year off and switched camps before returning to beat David Branch in a bout that saw Rockhold struggle more than expected in September. The win was supposed to earn him a title shot against Robert Whittaker, but Whittaker was injured and pulled out of this fight. Romero provides a completely different challenge. He is a world-class wrestler who won Olympic silver in 2000 and has a ton of power in his fists. Romero has questionable stamina, however. Rockhold is a great athlete who is one of the more gifted fighters in the division. He will look to wear down Romero and drag him into the later rounds, where fatigue will drain his power. Romero’s conditioning might be even more of a question mark after he missed weight Friday by more than 2 pounds. The blunder means he is not eligible to win the interim title. Rockhold can become interim champion if he’s victorious, perhaps giving him a motivational edge.

Hill’s pick: Rockhold by fourth-round submission

Fang’s pick: Romero by third-round knockout

Mark Hunt (13-11-1, 1 No Contest) vs. Curtis Blaydes (8-1, 1 No Contest)

Class: Heavyweight

Line: Blaydes -160

Storyline: Blaydes, one of the top prospects in the heavyweight division, can make the leap to true contender with a win over one of the hardest hitters in the organization. Blaydes was a national champion wrestler in junior college and has started to get more comfortable striking as his fundamentals catch up with his power. This is a huge test. Hunt has a granite chin and unrivaled power. He’s not the kind of fighter opponents want to engage in a brawl. Blaydes would be better served changing levels and trying to keep Hunt off balance. Hunt performs far better in his homeland of Australia than when he has to travel abroad.

Hill’s pick: Hunt by third-round knockout

Fang’s pick: Hunt by second-round knockout

Tai Tuivasa (8-0) vs. Cyril Asker (9-3)

Class: Heavyweight

Line: Tuivasa -300

Storyline: Tuivasa, a former professional rugby player, became the first indigenous Australian to win a fight in the UFC when he knocked out Rashad Coulter with a flying knee in November. The highlight-reel knockout raised eyebrows around the organization, as the undefeated Tuivasa showed incredible athleticism for a fighter at the 265-pound heavyweight limit. Asker is 2-2 since joining the UFC. The losses came in his two fights against good competition, while his wins were against borderline UFC talent. He could be a bit overmatched in this one.

Hill’s pick: Tuivasa by first-round knockout

Fang’s pick: Tuivasa by third-round knockout

Jake Matthews (12-3) vs. Li Jingliang (14-4)

Class: Welterweight

Line: Jingliang -165

Storyline: Some of the luster has been taken off Matthews, a once-promising prospect. He dropped two straight fights at lightweight, prompting a move back up to 170 pounds. While Matthews did pick up a win, it was far from an encouraging performance. He didn’t look confident in his striking and shot for desperation takedowns on several occasions. The positive is that he defeated a decent opponent in Bojan Velickovic. Jingliang will be a stiff test. He has won his past four fights after dropping two of three. Jingliang could make Matthews pay if he gets sloppy on his feet. Matthews can score a major victory if he can get the fight to the ground and utilize his strong top game.

Hill’s pick: Matthews by decision

Fang’s pick: Matthews by decision

Tyson Pedro (6-1) vs. Saparbek Safarov (8-1)

Class: Light heavyweight

Line: Pedro -275

Storyline: Pedro is an impressive prospect with speed and power to go with a strong submission game. A weakness might have been uncovered in his last fight when Ilir Latifi stayed patient and slowed the fight to make Pedro work for everything he tried to do and eventually wore him down enough to hand him his first loss. Safarov won’t do that. He’s aggressive and will turn up the pressure from the opening bell. That will suit Pedro just fine. Safarov’s forward pressure didn’t bother Gian Villante, as Safarov dropped his UFC debut last year.

Hill’s pick: Pedro by second-round knockout

Fang’s pick: Pedro by first-round knockout

More MMA: Follow all of our MMA and UFC coverage online at and @CoveringTheCage on Twitter.

Covering The Cage Videos
Covering the Cage: Jones, Nunes win at UFC 232
Amanda Nunes defeats Cyborg in the women's featherweight division and Jon Jones returns to UFC as the light heavyweight champion. Covering the Cage host Heidi Fang and Adam Hill recap the UFC 232 main and co main events.
Las Vegas MMA fighter Joey Ruquet joins Copa Combate tournament
When Combate Americas' Copa Combate tournament takes place on Dec. 7, Las Vegas-based MMA fighter Joey Ruquet will step in for Gaston Reyno and compete for the $100,000 prize money in the 8-man, one night featherweight tournament.
Espino, Chiasson claim UFC contracts with wins at TUF 28 Finale
Juan Espino was crowned as the TUF heavyweight winner when he submitted Justin Frazier at the finale in Las Vegas and Macy Chiasson submitted Pannie Kianzad to become the TUF 28 women's featherweight winner.
Kamaru Usman excited for what's next after TUF 28 win
After taking a win over Rafael dos Anjos at the TUF 28 Finale, UFC welterweight Kamaru Usman says he can be ready for anything that comes next or a quick turnaround if it gets him closer to a title shot.
Dana White on what's next for Usman and the flyweight division
UFC president Dana White spoke with media after the TUF 28 Finale to discuss what's next for the flyweight division and the main event winner, UFC welterweight Kamaru Usman.
Dos Anjos and Usman TUF 28 media day
Rafael dos Anjos and Kamaru Usman talk about facing each other at the TUF 28 Finale at a media day leading up to the Nov. 30 contest. Their welterweight bout will serve as the main event.
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like