The interim middleweight championship goes on the line this weekend at UFC221 as the world’s largest MMA promotion switches hemisphere to stage their first-ever event in the City of Perth, Australia.
Current middleweight champion, Robert Whitaker, was initially lined up to defend his belt against former champion, Luke Rockhold, in the main event, however, a series of unfortunate injuries forced Whitaker to withdraw. But the UFC would still ensure the fans get to see gold strapped around someone’s waist and drafted in number one contender and former Olympic silver medallist, Yoel Romero to face Rockhold for the interim title.
Elsewhere on the card Ross Pearson will represent UK MMA for the 24th time inside the Octagon as the Sunderland man looks to end his recent slump in form with a victory over the dangerous Japanese fighter, Mizuto Hirota.
Joining me for this instalment of The Writer vs. The Fighter vs. The Fan is marketing manager and MMA superfan, James King from Bathgate and former two time EFC featherweight champion, Danny Henry (11-2), who returns to the Octagon at UFC Fight Night London on Saturday 17th March to face Canadian prospect Hakeem Dawodu (7-0-1).
Here are our picks:
Interim middleweight championship: Luke Rockhold vs. Yoel Romero
Danny: I’ve been back and forth with this one all week. My head says Rockhold, but my heart says the soldier of God. He’s so explosive it wouldn’t surprise me if he catches Rockhold and hands him the 4th KO loss of his career. Romero TKO 2nd round.
James: This for me is the most exciting fight on the card, both guys are beasts. I see Rockhold coming out with a strong game plan to take Romero into the later rounds and pace out a decision.
Tom: I actually like this fight more than Whitaker vs Rockhold. Rockhold is the former champ and an absolute monster at middleweight, but Romero world-class wrestling combined with an immense power and raw aggression that will cause all sorts of problems for Rockhold, certainly in the early rounds. I think Romero will win this via TKO in the third round.
Heavyweight: Mark Hunt vs. Curtis Blaydes
Danny: You’ll never catch me betting against the Super Samoan. Mark Hunt, walk-off KO in the 1st round.
James: Blaydes is an impressive guy but I hate betting against Hunt. I think Hunt will spend a lot of time against the cage but will eventually catch Blaydes with a big shot and win by TKO in round 2.
Tom: Blaydes has good wrestling, KO power and an eight-inch reach advantage so the odds are in his favour. A lot will depend on Hunt’s game plan but I have a wee feeling Blaydes will take this one via ground and pound in the third round.
Welterweight: Jake Matthews vs. Li Jingliang
Danny: This is a tough one; I think Jake Matthews might be a bit too physical for Jingliang, with the hometown advantage I think he gets the W by decision.
James: Anyone will Celtic Kid as their nickname would normally get my vote, but not in this case, I fancy the Chinese fighter to win by decision.
Tom: Another evenly matched fight. If this stays on the feet then I think Jinglaing could edge out a win but I feel that the Celtic Kid’s superior grappling will allow him to dictate where this fight goes. I expect to see a second-round submission victory for Matthews.
Light heavyweight: Tyson Pedro vs. Saparbek Safarov
Danny: I like Tyson Pedro, he’s well rounded and got a good approach to the sport. I don’t know a great deal about Safarov, to be honest. Pedro gets the job done in front of his home crowd by decision.
James: I’m a big fan of Tyson Pedro, I think he will be too much for Safarov in this fight, I can see him throwing some strong knees and eventually stopping the Russian by strikes in the 1st.
Tom: Safarov is a stand-up fighter all day long so it will be interesting to see if he can cope with Pedro’s grappling game, which is elite. Personally, I think Safarov’s only chance is to catch Pedro clean on the chin with an early punch. If that doesn’t happen then Pedro will drag him down and choke him out. Pedro via submission in the second round.
Lightweight: Ross Pearson vs. Mizuto Hirota
Danny: I think Pearson takes this one. I know he’s on a four-fight slide, but he’s been fighting much tougher opposition that Hirota. Pearson TKO round 2 (counter left hook).
James: Although I’m a fan of Pearson I think unfortunately he is on his last legs as a fighter. I fancy Hirota to stretch out a decision in this one, busting up Pearson in a back and forth fight
Tom: Pearson is one of the nicest guys you could meet in MMA and I really believe he can get his UFC career back on track after a long two years to forget inside the Octagon. Hirota has 18 victories to his name but only one of them came outside his native Japan, suggesting he doesn’t travel well. I think Ross will outstrike him and collect a TKO victory in the third round.
Danny: Romero, Hunt, Matthews, Pedro and Pearson
James: Romero, Hunt, Jingliang, Pedro and Hirota
Tom: Romero, Blaydes, Matthews, Pedro and Pearson