Perth will for the first time play host to the UFC this weekend as UFC 221 rolls into town. Although the build-up for this event has been hampered by an injury to the originally scheduled main eventer, Robert Whittaker, as well as a lack of depth to the card, there is still an incredible main event and exciting co-main event to look forward to.
The co-main is a heavyweight bout between MMA veteran Mark ‘The Super Samoan’ Hunt and rising prospect, Curtis ‘Razor’ Blaydes. This is an intriguing matchup and clash of styles. The term ‘brawler’ is thrown around quite loosely in MMA these days, yet it is hard to argue with Hunt being awarded the tag.
His MMA career commenced after a doorman took particular interest in the Kiwi following a bar fight in which Hunt came out on top, and invited him to join his kick-boxing school. It is that raw, street aggression that Hunt brings to the table in all his fights. He is a constant threat and has become recognised as the king of the walk-off KO for his habit of walking off after landing a knockout before the referee can intervene.
Hunt is battle-tested and has fought the very best heavyweights around such as Stipe Miocic, Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem, albeit coming off second best in those contests. However, the ‘Super Samoan’ is coming off a fourth round knockout win over the number six-ranked contender in the division, Derrick Lewis, and will be confident going into Saturday’s co-main event.
Yet, for all the grit and aggression Hunt brings to the table, he is not exactly the most rounded heavyweight on the UFC roster as his record of eight wins, five losses, one draw and one no contest would suggest. And coming from a wrestling background, it is likely that Blaydes will look to expose holes in the ground game of his opponent in order to secure the win.
The American, who, amazingly, is 17 years younger than his opposite number, has only one loss to his name. And that was a doctor stoppage after going two rounds with ‘The Predator’ Francis Ngannou.
Despite coming from a wrestling background, it would be wrong to write off the stand-up game of the American. Blaydes has worked on his striking and seven of his eight pro victories have come by way of knockout. He will enjoy an eight-inch reach advantage and six-inch height advantage over Hunt, which he will aim to use to his advantage.
The Super Samoan will look to close the distance and will test the chin of his adversary in flashes.
But, ultimately, Razor will utilise all aspects of his game imposing a solid wrestling plan to grind out a decision victory.
Blaydes via decision.
The interim middleweight title will be on the line in the main event as Luke Rockhold takes on Yoel ‘Soldier of God’ Romero. While many fans were left bitterly disappointed after Robert Whittaker was pulled from the card, Romero is a worthy replacement having narrowly lost to the Australian by a decision back in July (48-47 across all scorecards).
The Cuban is an Olympic medallist having participated at the Sydney games in 2000 where he picked up a silver medal. He also possesses devastating power. Of his twelve career wins, ten have come by way of knockout, which makes for a hugely-entertaining highlight reel. His arsenal of attack involves elbows, kicks, punches and, most notably, the flying knee, which has earned him two knockouts. And of course, with his Olympic pedigree, he will be more than happy to contest the fight on the mat and impose his will on Rockhold.
The one issue which is constantly raised when Romero is discussed, however, is his cardio. Many believe that for all the energy and strength the Soldier of God brings early on, that the sheer volume of muscle he carries hampers him in the latter rounds. This was evident in his last outing where he went into the fifth round against Whittaker, with the fight at two rounds each, and was taken down and dominated in the final round. And there will be more questions around his condition going into Saturday’s main event as news broke overnight that he missed weight in Australia. It remains to be seen what effect this will have on the eccentric fighter, other than the fact that he will not be awarded the interim belt even if he is successful.
In Rockhold, Romero arguably faces the sternest test of his career. Rockhold is a rangy fighter standing at six foot three inches and will enjoy a three-inch reach advantage. He has fast hands but is most renowned for his kicking ability. He has power and speed and will mix it up with shots to the body or head. And while most strikers would be very cautious to throw kicks against such a dominant wrestler, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt is more than comfortable on the canvas. Rockhold will go for the guillotine or fight to take a dominant position if he is successfully taken down.
Rockhold has not been particularly active since he lost his middleweight strap against Michael Bisping in a shock upset back in June 2016. Bisping caught Rockhold with a counter-left hook. The Englishman has been outspoken that Rockhold can get complacent when striking and is vulnerable to being caught with a counter as he does not protect his chin. This is something Romero will look to expose for sure, particularly given all three of Rockhold’s MMA losses have come by first round knockout.
A second round finish over UFC newcomer David Branch has been the only outing for the Californian since he lost his belt, as he has been waiting for the right fight to come his way. And it is the prospect of lifting the middleweight gold once again (albeit an interim belt) that has enticed Rockhold to return to the cage.
It is not often we see a fight of this calibre. A devastating knockout artist who holds an Olympic medal against a BJJ black belt with ten first round finishes to his name. The beauty of this matchup is that both men are dangerous in any position and this makes it a must-watch bout.
Romero will be aware that the longer this fight goes on, the more likely Rockhold is to win. And so the Cuban will rush Rockhold early looking to land clean on his adversary’s chin. But, ultimately, Rockhold will use his experience and kicking to take the fight into the latter rounds.
As Romero slows up, Rockhold will be the more active fighter, landing more and posing a greater threat in the clinch and on the canvas to take a unanimous decision win.
Luke Rockhold via decision.
Read More About: alistair overeem, austrailia, derrick lewis, european mma, Fabricio Werdum, interim middleweight title, king of the walk off KO, Luke Rockhold, Mark Hunt, Michael Bisping, perth, razor blaydes, soldier of god, Stipe Miocic, super samoan, ufc221, Yoel Romero