The UFC is headed to Perth, Australia this week for UFC 221. The title fight on the card was supposed to showcase hometown hero Robert Whittaker as the new UFC Middleweight Champ, taking on Luke Rockhold, but unfortunately Whittaker came down with a whole host of injuries and was forced off the card. In his place the UFC brought in Yoel Romero to face Luke Rockhold and changed the fight to an Interim Middleweight title bout. I’m excited for the middleweight division to get back to showcasing the top fighters instead of sideshows like Bisping vs Henderson or Bisping vs GSP. The card isn’t overly strong for a PPV, but it should be exciting nonetheless.
I’ve added my picks for all of the main card fights below with the odds taken from BetOnline.ag.
Here’s our full BetOnline review for you to check out if you’re interested in opening an account and placing some bets.
Luke Rockhold vs Yoel Romero
Rockhold opened as a +140 underdog, but the bet was quickly bet down to a pick’em and now Rockhold is the favorite. Perhaps the oddsmakers were looking at Rockhold’s two most recent fights, which included his knockout loss to Bisping and then his submission win over Branch where he lost the first round. It’s true that Rockhold has not fought a lot in the past couple years, but at his best I think most would agree he is the best middleweight in the world (perhaps with the exception of Whittaker).
Romero has had a solid UFC career, but he got his shot against Whittaker for the interim title back at UFC 213 and was outclassed over 5 rounds with Whittaker running away with the fight in the Championship rounds. Romero is now gifted another interim shot right after that loss. To be honest I just haven’t been that impressed with Romero in his last few fights. He gassed out against Whittaker, won with a late flying knee finish against Weidman in a fight he was likely on his way to losing and squeaked out a split decision over Jacare in a fight most agree he lost.
Romero may be the more dangerous striker in this fight, but I don’t think he will catch Rockhold on the feet and Luke should be able to land the more effective strikes. If the fight goes to the mat, Rockhold is a very effective MMA grappler and I think he will actually get the better of Romero if this fight does go to the ground.
I also believe Rockhold has re-committed himself to MMA after taking a year or so after that Bisping loss and Romero is getting up there in age at 41 years old, so who knows when his level will drop off a cliff.
I think the only way Romero wins this fight is catching Rockhold early and I don’t think Rockhold will put himself in a position to be taken out in one of the first couple rounds.
Play: Rockhold -140
Curtis Blaydes vs Mark Hunt
Blaydes is a heavyweight prospect I’m still very excited about. His only loss came to Francis Ngannou in his second UFC fight and since then he’s put together 4 straight wins, most of them dominant. Mark Hunt is a legend in the sport, but he’s actually just a .500 fighter. He has one punch knockout ability and is very dangerous on the feet, but I don’t think he will be able to keep this fight standing against a wrestler of Blaydes’ ability. I think Blaydes is a step up from Brock Lesnar and we all saw how Brock was able to take Hunt down with relative ease at UFC 200.
Blaydes should get this win unless Hunt lands a bomb early.
Play: Blaydes -160
Cyril Asker vs Tai Tuivasa
This fight being on the main event shows how weak this PPV is. Asker is one of the worst fighters on the UFC roster and he’s being fed to the wolves to give Tuivasa a big win in front of his home fans.
Asker does have some submission ability and as a heavyweight he has punching power, but he is not an athletic guy and I expect Tuivasa to be able to control this fight from the outset and very likely get an early finish.
Play: Tuivasa -310
Jake Matthews vs Li Jingliang
Matthews was able to pull out a nice split decision win over Bojan Velickovic back in November and he will get right back to work against Li Jingliang with the UFC back in Australia. That said, the win over Bojan was really not that impressive. Velickovic is very hittable and I still didn’t think that Matthews has improved much since joining the UFC as a 19 year old.
Just because Matthews is young does not mean he is improving. Li Jingliang, on the other hand has impressed me in his 4 fight UFC winning streak. He is a strong technical fighter with finishing ability on the feet. He should get the better of Matthews throughout this fight and I actually expect a finish.
Play: Jingliang -190
Saparbek Safarov vs Tyson Pedro
I really didn’t mean to take all of the favorites on this card, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbled.
Pedro is coming off a tough decision loss to Ilir Latifi, but he is still a top prospect in the UFC’s light heavyweight division and it seems like the UFC is looking to get him back in the win column with this fight against Safarov.
Safarov has one fight in the UFC, which was a knockout loss to Gian Villante just over a year ago. He’s not a very athletic guy and I think Pedro should be able to handle him in all areas of the game. Safarov will need a finish to win this fight and even Latifi was not able to finish Pedro with his high end power.
Pedro should get a dominant win and will likely get a finish here as well.
Play: Pedro -260