UFC 221 Romero vs Rockhold review
UFC 221 / Yoel Romero, on to a title shot? / Pic: via Twitter / UFC_AusNz

UFC 221: Review

Luke Rockhold’s career has just taken a gigantic step backwards. All at the hands of Yoel Romero’s explosive left fist at UFC 221 in Perth.

Prior to UFC 221 there were few in the MMA world who thought the card was PPV-worthy, Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour even suggested it may be the worst PPV card ever – harsh words indeed. The event is now in the books, and Helwani et al could not have been more wrong. It contained drama in almost each bout, complete with silky submissions, crisp striking & one of the worst eye gouges ever in the octagon by China’s Li Jingliang.

Main card

The main card kicked off with Sydney’s own Tyson Pedro (7-1) pulling off a deliciously technical Kimura on the outclassed Saparbek Safarov. Pedro demonstrated his class in this one, showing heart to get back into the win column after his decision loss to Ilir Latifi back in September. The 26 year old looks a force to be reckoned with in a light heavyweight division that needs young fighters to stand up and be counted.

Next came Jake Matthews v Li Jingliang – a great welterweight scrap. In the event Matthews (12-3) looks to have improved hugely since his last outing, dominating Jingliang from the first moment, dropping him in the first. Cue the second round and the defining moment of the fight, Matthews had a Guillotine choke locked in from the bottom which Jingliang countered by forcing his fingers into Matthews’ eyes illegally, but was not punished by the referee. In an MMA context where poor refereeing is being examined more closely, this wasn’t a good display from the official. Still, Matthews prevailed with a unanimous decision and justice was done.

Next came 2 heavyweight back to back fights. First Tai Tuivasa extended his undefeated streak to 7 with an impressive destruction of Cyril Asker. ‘Bam Bam’ showed his devastating power and timing by unloading on the incredibly tough Frenchman, before it was stopped in the first round. Then came the legendary Mark Hunt, taking on Curtis ‘Razor’ Blaydes, who has been rising through the ranks in a stale heavyweight division.

The 43-year-old K1 Kickboxing legend Hunt showed he still carries phenomenal power in his hands and rocked Blaydes in the opening round. Blaydes showed his adaptability by changing up his approach after this, sticking to his wrestling and showing impressive strength by picking up and slamming Hunt multiple times throughout the fight – and edged him in the decision.

Next came the Main Event

Yoel Romero failed to make the 185lbs limit on Saturday, so only Rockhold would be eligible to be crowned the interim middleweight champion if he were to win. Still, this bout was to decide who would be the number one contender to face Robert Whittaker for the undisputed crown when the Australian champion returns from injury.

Rockhold (16-4) agreed to fight Romero despite the weight issues, and secured himself 30% of Romero’s fight purse in return for giving up the wight advantage. This proved to be a terrible mistake. Romero (13-2) as always looked in phenomenal shape, and attempted to utilise his strong clinch work in a cagey first round with both men feeling each other out with jabs.

The second round followed in a similar fashion with both fighters respecting each others power throughout.

Then came the breakthrough

Rockhold has shown a weakness defending his right side in the past, with Bisping finding an opening with a left hook to knock him out to dethrone him. Romero found this same gap in the third round and it was all over. Romero detonated his left hand on the chin of Rockhold and knocked the former champion out cold, and followed up with a perfectly placed left before Mark Goddard could step in and save Rockhold from the Cuban.

So, next up for the middleweight title. Romero vs Whittaker 2.

The complete UFC 221 results can be found here.


  1. Rockhold is a good striker but doesn’t have a chin anymore. Jingyang should be cut from the UFC over those intentional eye gouges; I love brutality but eye gouging is ridiculous.

  2. Asker is a decent grappler but has been knocked out by Jared Cannonier who isn’t the biggest light heavyweight. Tuivasa is impressively quick at heavyweight and packs a mighty wallop which spells disaster for Asker. Pick: Tai Tuivasa Jake Matthews (12-3) vs Li Jingliang (14-4) Jake Matthews is a well-rounded competitor but when faced up against better opposition, he has come unstuck. Li Jingliang meanwhile has the characteristics needed to trouble Matthews as his forward pressure and heavy-hitting should be enough to keep his win streak going. Pick: Li Jingliang Tyson Pedro (6-1) vs Saparbek Safarov (8-1) While Tyson Pedro suffered a dominating loss to Ilir Latifi in his last outing, Pedro is still young enough to bounce back in a big way and build upon his already impressive game.

  3. Yoel Romero (12-2) vs Luke Rockhold (16-3) Romero – Rockhold is a brilliant fight but to the chagrin of American fans under the PPV model, this is the only fight worth any money. While looking at both fighters skillsets, you’d have to favour Rockhold on paper. With a more tried and tested gas tank under his belt, a kicking game amongst the best in the UFC and with his scrambles and submission game criminally underrated, Rockhold is one of the best offensive fighters in MMA. Where Romero will take heed, however, is Rockhold’s shaky defence and his tendency to start slow. From losing his title to Michael Bisping due to carrying his hands low, Rockhold went on to have a brief spell of trouble against David Branch when backed up to the cage. With Romero’s explosive power and unorthodox Cuban striking, it’s just as easy to see Romero land a fight-ending blow as it is to see Rockhold coast over five rounds. Ultimately, I think with Rockhold having more paths to victory you have to side with the former champion picking up the needed rounds although questions will be looming over the durability of Rockhold compared to what Romero has shown in the past. Pick: Luke Rockhold Mark Hunt (13-11-1, 1 NC) vs Curtis Blaydes (8-1, 1 NC) If Blaydes has any smarts about him, he’ll turn this bout into the conventional wrestler vs striker match-up.


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