Yoel Romero scored a vicious knockout of former champion Luke Rockhold in what was supposed to be an interim title fight at UFC 221 on Saturday night in Perth, Australia.
Yet he’s not the interim champion.
Romero missed weight Friday and therefore was ineligible to win the belt despite landing two devastating left hands to finish Rockhold at 1:28 of the third round.
Rockhold and Romero eventually agreed to fight shortly before the card was scheduled to begin. Both camps hesitated to accept the amended terms, which called for Rockhold to get 30 percent of Romero’s purse and called for only Rockhold to fight for the interim belt.
None of that mattered to Romero once the fight started. It was close to even through two rounds before Romero dropped Rockhold with a left hand behind the ear early in the third.
He landed a huge left to a defenseless Rockhold as he sat against the cage to end the UFC’s first card in western Australia.
“Rockhold is a very good fighter, former UFC champion and Strikeforce champion, and I’m very happy that I fought the best in my division,” said Romero, who is expected to get a shot at champion Robert Whittaker. “I trained very hard for this fight. We worked very hard in sparring and on the power that Luke has.”
Fan favorite Mark Hunt dropped a unanimous decision to rising heavyweight prospect Curtis Blaydes.
Hunt landed a huge shot to drop Blaydes early in the fight, prompting Blaydes to turn to his wrestling. It proved to be a successful strategy.
Blaydes consistently controlled Hunt on the ground en route to his fourth straight win.
“That was my game plan,” Blaydes said. “He wants to stand and bang, He’s the better striker, he’s a veteran, but I didn’t want to play his game. I want to play my game. I’m the wrestler, I’m the judoka master champ, and I’m going to drag him to where I want to be. On the feet, he’s a lion and I’m not a lion. But on the ground, I’m a shark and he ain’t a shark, so I took him to where I wanted to be.”
Australians were victorious in the first three fights on the main card, as Tai Tuivasa, Jake Matthews and Tyson Pedro picked up wins.
Tuivasa knocked out heavyweight Cyril Asker in the first round with a series of punches and elbows.
“This is my home,” said Tuivasa, a former professional rugby player, after improving to 7-0 overall and 2-0 in the UFC. “I expect a big crowd. I put a show on for them. I show them love, and they show me love back, so that means more to me than anything.”
His brother-in-law, Pedro, bounced back from his first career loss with a first-round submission of Saparbek Safarov in a light heavyweight bout. Pedro locked in a kimura to earn the fifth submission win of his career.
“It was just there,” he said of the maneuver. “I just knew he wasn’t going to go real low on my legs, so ripped it off and I tried to take the arm home with me. I didn’t want to go to the second round. I let myself down in the third round last time.”
Matthews won for the second consecutive time after moving back up to welterweight with a unanimous decision over Li Jingliang.
Results of Saturday’s main card bouts in Perth, Australia:
— Yoel Romero def. Luke Rockhold, middleweights, KO, third round (1:28).
— Curtis Blaydes def. Mark Hunt, heavyweights, unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 29-27).
— Tai Tuivasa def. Cyril Asker, heavyweights, KO, first round (2:18).
— Jake Matthews def. Li Jingliang, welterweights, unanimous decision (29-28, 30-26, 30-26).
— Tyson Pedro def. Saparbek Safarov, light heavyweights, submission, first round (3:54).