06 Feb UFC 221: What’s at Stake?
The stakes are high in Perth, Australia with UFC 221 hosting an important interim title fight between Yoel Romero and Luke Rockhold. In the two bouts leading up to the title fight, two heavyweight fights could see the rise of future title contenders. And throughout the rest of the card there is an abundance of local talent, each of them looking to prove themselves on their home patch.
Perth may have lost it’s middleweight title fight after the withdrawal of Robert Whittaker, but there is still UFC gold on the line at UFC 221. After sitting out since his loss to Whittaker, Yoel Romero has landed himself a fight against Luke Rockhold for the interim middleweight title.
For Yoel Romero (12-2), this fight acts as a second chance for him to claim the Interim Middleweight belt and, more importantly, a shot to fight Whittaker again for the title. At 40 years old, Romero hasn’t shown many signs of physical deterioration, but you have to wonder how many more years his unparalleled athleticism will last. Perhaps this could be the Cuban’s last run for UFC gold.
Since losing the Middleweight belt to Michael Bisping in one of the sport’s biggest upsets, Luke Rockhold (16-3) suffered an extended period out of the sport due to injury. In his return, Rockhold faced David Branch in a UFC Fight Night headliner. After surviving a first round onslaught from Branch, Rockhold managed to regain his composure in the second round and force the former two division WSOF champ to tap out due to strikes.
On paper, it would be fair to question whether either fighter really merits a shot at the Interim Middleweight belt. Romero is coming off a unanimous decision loss to the current Champ and Rockhold has beaten just one opponent in Branch since his knockout loss to Bisping. However, when considering their overall records and their fighting ability, this matchup makes for a fantastic clash between two incredible athletes.
Despite it not being the UFC’s first choice as a fight, this is still a crucial contest as it acts as the first step towards restoring order to the Middleweight division. The winner guarantees himself a shot for the undisputed belt against Whittaker and then finally natural order can resume at 185lbs.
Hunting for Heavyweights
Since Francis Ngannou’s loss to Stipe Miocic at UFC 220, thoughts have quickly moved towards the next potential challenger at Heavyweight. In a division that is marred by older fighters past their prime, the UFC is desperate for new talent in the weight class.
UFC 221 has two fights at Heavyweight scheduled between Mark Hunt and Curtis Blaydes and Tai Tuivasa and Cyril Asker. The two fights could give a much needed injection of excitement and promise to the division.
When considering the UFC Heavyweight landscape, Hunt (13-11-1 ) vs Blaydes (8-1 ) is a significant bout in that a solid win for either competitor could put them close to title contention.
Whilst Asker vs Tuivasa isn’t going to lead to immediate title contention, it could give rise to a new Australian Heavyweight talent. Tai Tuivasa (6-0) has burst on to the MMA scene with 6 straight 1st round finishes and will be looking to use Asker (9-3) to propel himself through the rankings.
Although it’s not ideal, I believe the Champ vs Champ fight in Stipe vs DC has come at the right time as it will give time for contenders in each division to mature and develop into meaningful challengers. Promising fighters like Curtis Blaydes and Tai Tuivasa will be aiming to use this as an opportunity to set up a solid case for a shot at the winner of Stipe vs DC.
Pressure Down Under
With 8 out of 12 total fights at UFC 221 containing an Australian or New Zealander, local fans won’t be short on fighters to cheer for. However, it won’t be an easy night for the locals. Many of the fighters are involved in tough matchups or are coming off defeats, making their visit to Perth all the more important. Among the Australian fighters include Tai Tuivasa, Tyson Pedro, and Jake Matthews.
In the first fight on the main card Tyson Pedro (6-1) will be looking to rebound against UFC newcomer Saparbek Safarov (8-1). Pedro is coming off a humbling loss to Ilir Latifi and will be desperate to get back on track in front of a home crowd.
In his second fight at Welterweight, Jake Matthews (11-3) faces a stiff test in Li Jingliang (14-4). The Chinese fighter, Jingliang, has looked very impressive lately and a win for Matthews would do wonders for his Welterweight ambitions.
Further down the card there’s more tough matchups for the Australians. In the headlining preliminary bout Damien Brown (17-11) will be eager to secure a win over Dong Hyun Kim (15-8-3), with the Australian having lost his last 2 fights. Rob Wilkinson (11-1) faces off against unbeaten debutant Israel Adesanya (11-0) and will look to make amends after losing his own UFC début.
In an exciting Featherweight contest the Australian Alexander Volkanovski (16-1) will meet fellow prospect Jeremy Kennedy (11-0). Volkanovski will be aiming to continue his impressive UFC run whilst Kennedy is fighting to keep an equally impressive run and an unbeaten record alive.
UFC 221 is a card largely tailored for Australian fans, but has some important fights and interesting matchups which could make for a great night in Perth.