UFC 221 - The Big Perth Breakdown

Date: Sunday 11th February, 3am (UK)

Location: Perth, Australia

Venue: Perth Arena

Yoel Romero vs Luke Rockhold (Interim Championship)

The first UFC event to be hosted in Perth was originally scheduled to be headlined by Robert Whittaker who was preparing to defend his newly earned middleweight championship but unfortunately withdrew due to a series of injuries, infections and illnesses. This has given Yoel Romero the opportunity on the back of a loss to fight Luke Rockhold for an interim title.

Let’s hope this fight sets up a legitimate title fight with Whittaker to end the carousel of belts as all the attention should be focused on the immense talent of all these contenders. The middleweight division has consistently produced some of the most skilled fighters of all time and none more so than Romero and Rockhold so despite the dropouts, the anticipation is simmering in Perth.

Rockhold lost his belt to Michael Bisping in June 2016 which damaged his stock but we cannot forget he steamrolled an undefeated Chris Weidman to earn the title and has regularly displayed breathtaking finishing against legends of the sport, boasting arguably the most complete skillset in MMA. His striking technique is mesmerizing with a savage right hook and left kick as well as a dominant top game which has allowed him to submit black belts for fun.

Then we have Romero who is simply a freak. At 40 years old, he still looks like he was crafted by the gods themselves with an intimidating skillset of his own. Arriving into MMA as an accomplished Olympic wrestler, he has displayed frightening knockout power and speed. His natural athleticism has propelled him into the elite of MMA but he has certainly met his match in Rockhold.

Rockhold’s skills speak for themselves and after joining forces with top trainer Henri Hooft, we can expect to see him rejuvenated but so too Romero after being humbled by his loss to Whittaker. The Cuban has learnt some valuable lessons, in particular the importance of keeping the pace for the five rounds and leaving enough energy for his explosive attacks.  

Romero has the speed and power to knock out anyone and will be spurred on by Rockhold’s fights against David Branch and Bisping where he received damage on the feet, but Rockhold also has the technique and reach to inflict and counter with his own destruction.

So, the stand-up contest will be enthralling but so will the grappling if the fight takes that route. Romero’s back-up plan is his elite wrestling but nobody has ever out-grappled Rockhold. They are evenly matched everywhere but Rockhold has the edge in the submission game. Wherever this fight takes place, we will be witnessing greatness, but sandwiched between the Californian and the mat is the worst place Romero could end up.

Every stat should be considered with these two absolute weapons but the submission average of Rockhold stands out as the advantage, providing he can keep ‘The Soldier of God’ down. See below for the statistical breakdown:

Romero v Rockhold.JPG

Mark Hunt vs Curtis Blaydes

The ‘Super Samoan’ Mark Hunt is back and despite a fractious relationship with the UFC, has been slotted into the co-main event with the young and promising Curtis Blaydes.

This is a real veteran vs prodigy match-up with not only the stages of their careers differing but also their fighting styles. We have come to learn what to expect from Hunt who will stand and throw thunderous bombs, absorb bombs and attempt to avoid takedowns like a fad diet. This style combined with his unholy power has made him a fan favourite all over the world since his beginnings as a kickboxer. 

Blaydes, on the other hand, has transitioned into MMA from a very strong wrestling background. After holding school records and winning a championship at NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) level, Blaydes made his professional MMA debut in 2014 and won his first five fights.

Unfortunately for him, he then met Francis Ngannou for his first UFC fight and subsequently his first loss. However, he has improved drastically since this knockout and has built on his athletic pedigree by moving to Denver, Colorado and training with top fighters at Elevation Fight Team. He now has eight wins to his name and his looked exceptional in the process, adding a knockout threat to his arsenal.

Although Blaydes’ striking has improved, it would be foolish to stand and trade with the ‘Super Samoan’ – a man who eats punches that would capsize the average man and who throws with power that would capsize any man would love nothing more than to have a slugfest with Blaydes.

However, we should fully expect the American to call upon his Wrestling to take the fight away from Hunt. Whoever can avoid the each other’s strengths i.e the strikes of Hunt and the takedowns of Blaydes, will likely create the winner in this bruising contest.

See below for the statistical breakdown:

Hunt v Blaydes.JPG

Tai Tuivasa vs Cyril Asker

The first of two big heavyweight clashes grace the Perth card in the form of the native Tai Tuivasa and Frenchman, Cyril Asker.

In Tuivasa’s short career we have already seen similarities with his allies and fellow powerhouses Mark Hunt and Tyson Pedro, who are also on the card. He has bulldozed his way to 6-0 with six knockouts. At only 26, he is another heavyweight who has the potential to cause any fighter severe problems.

With a seismic frame, Tuivasa is an incredible athlete who decided on a career in MMA instead of professional Rugby League. He has had a stuttering start due injuries but is now focused after joining the UFC and is set on knocking off opponent after opponent.

His next opponent hails from France and joined the UFC in 2016 as the EFC (Extreme Fighting Championship) heavyweight champion. Since, Asker has experienced the huge step-up in competition from the South African promotion with a UFC record of 2-2. Very familiar with travelling the world for fights, he is intent on becoming more familiar with winning in the UFC but has a large test on his biggest stage at UFC 221.

Asker is well-rounded but most comfortable up close and personal and is expected to enforce the clinch and takedowns which would be sensible as Tuivasa will be hunting the Frenchman like prey.

The Aussie throws all his weight into his strikes, throwing power right hands and following up with combinations. In his last fight, he finished Rashad Coulter spectacularly with a flying knee after overwhelming him with aggressive attacks and hopes to do exactly the same to Asker.

So, the significant strikes of Tuivasa and the takedown accuracy of Asker are highlighted in the statistical breakdown:

Tuivasa v Asker.JPG

Jake Matthews vs Li Jingliang

Jake Matthews got back to winning ways in his last bout after suffering two straight losses to Kevin Lee and Andrew Holbrook. He scraped a decision over Bojan Veličković and now he hopes to make Li Jingliang his 12th career win and 11th in Australia.

The Chinese prospect arrives to Perth with better form, on a four-fight winning streak including three impressive knockouts. He made particularly short work of his last victim, Zak Ottow, finishing him in the first round after a flurry of strikes on the ground set up by a clean straight right.

That said, Matthews will not back away from the stand-up battle and will hope to deliver his own damage. With four knockouts, he has the tools to deliver Jingliang a taste of his own medicine but his advantage lies on the ground as a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

We should expect Jingliang to throw a lot of feints to set up powerful combinations and keep the fight on the feet but the key stat is the weight as interestingly, Matthews have never lost at welterweight and hopes to continue this run on home soil.

Matthews v Jingliang.JPG

Tyson Pedro vs Saparbek Safarov

The first of many behemoths on the main card for Perth comes in the rotund shapes of light heavyweights Tyson Pedro and Saparbek Safarov.

They both head into UFC 221 on the back of their first loss and are desperate to make amends. Despite their setbacks, they have serious potential in the division and there has never been a better opportunity to climb up the rankings; the best way to do that is to garner the attention of the UFC brass with eye-catching finishes and that is exactly what they have done.

Finishing every single one of their victories, another at UFC 221 would put them on course for a top 10 opponent in their next fight. Tyson acquired four submissions and two knockouts before suffering a decision loss to Ilir Latifi in his third UFC fight.

Safarov, on the other hand, acquired six knockouts and two submissions before suffering a knockout of his own at the hands of Gian Villante. That particular fight was his UFC debut so the Russian has more to prove in search for his first UFC win and as they have both found out, the talent and pressure is a different level in the UFC which will provide an intense fight – for however long it lasts.

Even with the added pressure, they are fully expected to put on a show in search for another finish. As Safarov has only had one UFC fight, take his stats with a pinch of salt but the key stat highlighted is their form as whoever responds better after the first career loss will walk away with the victory and march up the rankings.

See below for the statistical breakdown:

Pedro v Safarov.JPG