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UFC 221 Weigh-ins
Yoel Romero will fight in the main event of UFC 221 on Saturday night.
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

The last time the UFC hosted a pay-per-view in Australia it had two women’s championship fights in Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm and Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Valerie Letourneau. It was a pretty stacked card.

The return to Australia with UFC 221 is not so great, but nonetheless, we still have a show with very important fights. In the main event, Luke Rockhold will take on Yoel Romero for the UFC interim middleweight belt, sort of. Romero missed weight Friday night, so he won’t be eligible to win the belt if victorious. This is technically only a title fight for Rockhold, who was on weight. This fascinating fight is accompanied by a few other interesting bouts.

UFC 221 features a significant heavyweight contest between veteran Mark Hunt and rising contender Curtis Blaydes, the return of 205-pound prospect Tyson Pedro, a fun booking pitting Jake Matthews and Li Jingliang, and a key flyweight bout in Jussier Formiga vs. Ben Nguyen.

What: UFC 221

Where: Perth Arena, Perth, Western Australia

When: Saturday, Feb. 10. The three-fight UFC Fight Pass preliminary card begins at 6:30 p.m. ET, the four-fight FOX Sports 1 preliminary card begins at 8 p.m. ET, and the five-fight main card begins at 10 p.m. ET on pay-per-view.


Yoel Romero vs. Luke Rockhold

It’s unfortunate that this bout is for an interim title - for Rockhold. These two fighters are world class, this type of high-level match up should be for undisputed gold. But like the wise Max Holloway says: “It is what it is.” We still have a fantastic and intriguing fight on our hands.

Yoel Romero is a genetic freak. The Cuban fighter is arguably the most athletic fighter on the UFC roster. Romero is quick, explosive and powerful in everything he does. On top of that, Romero is a supreme wrestler with solid ground control and dangerous ground-and-pound. The 40-year-old is also a competent striker who can throw opposition off with his unpredictable style.

Luke Rockhold could very well be the best middleweight on the planet. Rockhold is pound-for-pound one of the most well-rounded fighters in MMA. He’s an excellent striker with a varied arsenal of attacks. Rockhold is also a wicked grappler with good takedowns and dangerous submissions. Rockhold might not be as athletic as Romero, but he’s not far from it. Rockhold is powerful, moves quickly and has a very long frame for the division. Worth noting, Rockhold has a significant advantage in endurance here.

This one can go either way. Romero is good at closing the gap and good at landing hard shots. He could very well put away Rockhold, who has been stopped twice before in the UFC. Rockhold could also very well out-strike Romero from the outside and take him into the later rounds where he’ll have an edge. Rockhold might find a way to get the fight to the ground, where he can look for submissions.

Tough call. I was leaning towards Romero before weigh ins. However, after watching him miss weight, and not look too good doing it, I’m now favoring the former champ. I know Rockhold has had issues with guys who can quickly close the gap in striking and counter with a quick shot. Rockhold can sometimes overcommit to shots, leaving him exposed for a tiny gap in time. I can see Romero using his explosiveness to counter Rockhold with big shots and occasionally take the fight to the ground or against the cage. But given Rockhold’s cardio advantage, and Romero’s tough weight cut, I believe Rockhold should have the edge here. At the end of the day, Rockhold is the more skilled fighter. He should be able to stay composed in the early rounds and pressure Romero once in deep waters.

Pick: Rockhold

Mark Hunt vs. Curtis Blaydes

Here’s your classic big-name veteran vs. young prospect matchup.

Mark Hunt has been around the game for forever. The “Super Samoan” has been at the top of the heavyweight division for several years now, and at 43 years of age, many wonder how much longer Hunt will stay on top. The 26-year-old Curtis Blaydes could be the guy to get Hunt out of the top five of the heavyweight division.

Hunt is a durable and incredibly tough fighter with high-level striking technique and scary knockout power. The New Zealander by way of Australia is not a great grappler, but he knows how to avoid takedowns and get back to his feet if taken down. Hunt is also one of the most experienced fighters in the weight class.

Blaydes is very young in the sport of MMA. He’s 26 years old and has only been fighting professionally since 2014. Despite his lack of experience, the American fighter finds himself in the top 10 of the UFC’s heavyweight division. Blaydes is quick, strong and has several tools in his fighting game. Blaydes has very good wrestling and solid boxing, making him a pretty complete fighter.

I think Blaydes is capable of pulling the upset here. However, I don’t think that’s the likely outcome; I feel the UFC is rushing him a bit. Going from Aleksei Oleinik to Mark Hunt is a very big jump in competition. Hunt is extremely skilled on the feet and very hard to takedown. He can also take a punch (several actually) very well, unlike some of the other heavyweights his age.

I see Hunt walking down Blaydes — occasionally experiencing some issues with Blaydes’ attacks — and landing a big shot.

Pick: Hunt

Tai Tuivasa vs. Cyril Asker

Tai Tuivasa is a fun fighter to watch. Being a long-time training partner of Mark Hunt, you can somewhat guess what Tuivasa is good at. The heavyweight fighter is a skilled kickboxer who mixes up his attacks well. Tuivasa is deceivingly quick and and very powerful. Tuivasa is no ground specialist, but he knows how to keep the fight on the feet.

But Cyril Asker might have what it takes to beat Tuivasa. Asker is a pretty nifty wrestler who possesses a dominant ground game with solid submissions and ground-and-pound. Asker is one of the smaller heavyweights in the division, but he’s quick and has an excellent gas tank.

This is a tough test for the undefeated Tuivasa. Asker has the style and skills to complicate things. I think the odds should be a lot closer than what they are. Yet, I still see the favorite Tuivasa picking up a win. Walt Harris was able to make Asker hesitate with his takedowns and powerful strikes. I believe Tuivasa should be able to do the same.

Pick: Tuivasa

Jake Matthews vs. Li Jingliang

This is one of my favorite matchups on the card. I’ve been very high on both Jake Matthews and Li Jingliang.

Despite his mixed results in the UFC, Matthews has showed plenty of promise. He’s only 23 years old and he’s already had eight bouts in the UFC, which is a big achievement within itself. Matthews is a pretty complete fighter. “The Celtic Kid” has solid boxing, good wrestling and submissions. He can be a threat anywhere the fight goes.

On the other hand, Jingliang, 29, might not be as young as Matthews, but he seems to be improving every time he sets foot in the Octagon. Jingliang is a very well-rounded fighter. He’s very athletic, and he uses that attribute well in both his striking and ground game. Jingliang is a tough fight for anyone at 170 pounds.

I’m a bit split here. Matthews didn’t look like a small fighter in his welterweight debut, but facing a guy such as Jingliang might prove otherwise. Skill for skill, I think Matthews should get a win here. However, Jingliang is excellent at overriding skill gaps with his pressure and athletic abilities. I see this bout being close with Jingliang getting the nod from the judges.

Pick: Jingliang

Tyson Pedro vs. Saparbek Safarov

Tyson Pedro is a huge prospect at 205 pounds. Pedro has only seven professional fights under his belt, but he’s already pretty skilled. The 26-year-old fighter possesses pretty solid striking, good takedowns and ground control, and powerful submissions. Pedro is a good athlete who has good speed and power.

Saparbek Safarov is a bit of an awkward fighter. He doesn’t have outstanding striking technique, but he’s not shy on his feet, which makes him a dangerous fighter. Safarov is very durable and tough, but lacks size and some athletic abilities many other fighters possess at light heavyweight.

I find Pedro to be athletically and technically superior than Safarov. Unless Pedro gets caught by a wild shot, I don’t see him losing this bout. Pedro should be able to deal with Safarov with ease.

Pick: Pedro

Undercard:

Dong Hyun Kim def. Damien Brown

Israel Adesanya def. Rob Wilkinson

Alexander Volkanovski def. Jeremy Kennedy

Jussier Formiga def. Ben Nguyen

Mizuto Hirota def. Ross Pearson

Jose Alberto Quinonez def. Teruto Ishihara

Luke Jumeau def. Daichi Abe