UFC 221 tips: Best bets for Romero v Rockhold
We make our pick for the interim middleweight title fight in Perth, along with the rest of the bouts on the main card.
Yoel Romero v Luke Rockhold
This interim title bout should help clear up the middleweight division and set up the next challenger to undisputed champion Robert Whittaker.
Romero might be the most dangerous striker in the ranks, with the ability to put any fighter on their back at any point in the fight.
The Cuban has ended 10 of his 12 professional wins inside the distance.
Rockhold was knocked out by Michael Bisping at UFC 199 in June 2016 – his third stoppage defeat – and he’s got to tuck his chin away on Saturday night.
The 33-year-old is really dangerous when he gets on top on the mat, but there’s not much chance of that happening against Romero – a world champion wrestler and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt.
The American’s best chance is hanging on until the last two rounds – just like Whittaker did against Romero last July – as the 40-year-old Romero’s stamina is suspect.
Rockhold’s reach keeps most fighters at bay, but Romero is just so fast and powerful that he should eventually get in range and close out the fight.
Mark Hunt v Curtis Blaydes
Expect an early finish in this meeting of two heavyweights whose combined KO record is over 80 per cent.
Blaydes has had an impressive career so far, winning eight of 10 bouts. He’s had one no contest, while his only defeat came against top contender Francis Ngannou in April 2016.
The 26-year-old has never faced an opponent who was ranked at the time, however, and this is a huge step up for him.
Since 2011, Hunt has only lost to fighters who have previously held a UFC or Strikeforce heavyweight title, and he is still one of the biggest punchers in the division, despite being 43.
The New Zealander was overwhelmed against the rangy Alistair Overeem and mauled by Brock Lesnar, but KO wins in the past three years over Antonio Silva, Frank Mir and most recently Derrick Lewis prove that Hunt can still take out fighters who aren’t quite at the elite level.
Fighting in Australia for the sixth time in his career, the veteran should manage to land one of his bombs and end this fight inside the distance.
Tai Tuivasa v Cyril Asker
When undefeated Australian heavyweight Tuivasa made his UFC debut against Rashad Coulter in November, it ended the in same way as his other five fights: with a first-round KO.
The Sydney native should extend his perfect record against the 32-year-old Asker, who has a 9-3 professional record, including two defeats in his last four bouts.
Asker’s UFC losses came against Walt Harris and Jared Cannonier – both decent but unranked heavyweights – and he’s clearly at a power and athletic disadvantage in this fight.
Tuivasa is inexperienced, but he showed real patience in his UFC debut and is the fighter to back here.
Jake Matthews v Ji Jingliang
Matthews really needs a win on Saturday night, after failing to impress in beating Bojan Valickovic last time out and losing his two fights prior to that.
Unfortunately for the Australian, he’s facing an exciting prospect in Li who happens to be on the best run of his career.
The Chinese welterweight has won four in a row, knocking out Zak Ottow in his last bout in November.
Li has developed into a real power puncher, and has the strength to shake off Matthews’ takedown attempts.
Tyson Pedro v Saparbek Safarov
Pedro was on track for a shot at one of the UFC’s elite light heavyweights until September, when he was outwrestled by Ilir Latifi in the first loss of his seven-fight career.
Against Safarov – who also suffered his first defeat last time out – the Australian should get back to winning ways.
Safarov is a decent striker with plenty of power, but he was beaten in his only UFC fight and has not appeared in the Octagon in over a year.
The rangy Pedro will take advantage of the Russian’s rustiness on the way to what should be a comfortable victory.