Luke Rockhold was in control for the vast majority of the 11:48 he spent inside the octagon with Yoel Romero in the main event of UFC 221 in Perth, Western Australia on Saturday night but one split-second display of explosive power from Romero in the third round rendered the American’s prior work in the bout irrelevant.
Rockhold started well, peppering Romero with leg kicks and roundhouse kicks to the body throughout a cautious first stanza. Romero had little success in those first five minutes, as he struggled to get in close, and was reduced to winging wild overhands from distance.
In the second, Romero rushed his man early and fired a barrage of shots that pinned Rockhold against the fence but the Cuban didn’t land anything really hurtful. Rockhold was eventually able to find an escape route and take things back into the centre of the cage. The American soon got back to work, popping out his southpaw jab and landing the occasional left to the body or head.
Making his UFC debut on commentary, Jimmy Smith noted that Rockhold seemed content at boxing range in the second round. The kicks of the first round had been replaced by a jab, meaning that Romero was now merely at arm’s length rather than further outside on the perimeter of kicking range. Though Rockhold’s jab was pretty effective and he remained largely in control as a result, his willingness to allow Romero in a little closer may have given ‘The Soldier of God’ the opportunity he needed to close the show.
A little over a minute and a half into the third, Romero manoeuvred Rockhold toward the fence with his feet and crept closer behind a double jab before firing an overhand left. The same shot that had looked so wild and uncultured from the outside in the first now looked devastating as it landed over the top of a desperate, reactionary jab from Rockhold. The former middleweight champion crumpled to the canvas, where he appeared frozen stiff, and Romero pounced to deliver one more sickening punch before the fight was called off by referee Marc Goddard.
😳 Lights out. Goodnight. 😳
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) February 11, 2018
After Rockhold had gathered some of his scattered bearings, Romero tried to console him, something that made for a difficult watch. The look on Rockhold’s face as Romero tried to profess his “love” was sheer anguish.
Sometimes one needs a little alone time.
There was, of course, no belt for Romero. The 40-year-old missed middleweight championship weight by 2.7lbs on Friday and thus was ineligible to win the interim title that was up for grabs for Rockhold. With the win, however, Romero may well have earned himself a shot at undisputed champion Robert Whittaker and a chance to avenge the only defeat of his ten-fight stint in the UFC anyway.
In his post-fight interview, Romero apologised for missing weight and showed respect for Rockhold, whom he called “a very good athlete and a great fighter.” Seemingly suffering from a leg injury, he gave the entire interview from his backside on the canvas and had to be helped to his feet afterwards,
Prior to this fight, Rockhold told the media that it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to make the middleweight limit and that a move to light-heavyweight was “imminent.”
Had he beaten Romero, Rockhold might have decided to stick around for a crack at Whittaker but after falling to his second defeat in three fights, a move 20lbs north can’t be far away for the 33-year-old veteran.