UFC 221

Romero X Rockhold / Hunt X Blaydes

Picks, Parays, and Predictions

G'day Fate

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PICKS

Romero x Rockhold
Blaydes x Hunt
Tuivasa x Asker
Jingliang x Matthews
Pedro x Safarov
Kim x Brown
Volkanovski x Kennedy
Nguyen x Formiga
Pearson x Hirota
Ishihara x El Teco


PARLAYS

“Vegemaybe” EDITION
Romero (+120)
Blaydes (-155)
Tuivasa (-280)
Jingliang (-205)
$2.21 to win $13.94

“Irwinner” EDITION
Romero (+120)
Nguyen (-105)
Ishihara (-280)
$1.00 to win $10.81

PREDICTIONS

Bury This Card Down Under

Yoel Romero x Luke Rockhold for the Interim Middleweight Championship

Hey, look, it’s another interim title fight headlining a PPV with an ever-increasing price tag. Color me surprised. I honestly don’t know what WME is thinking anymore. Well, I do. They’re trying to recoup that $4 billion as fast as possible instead of building the brand. They clearly view the UFC as more of a vessel for individuals to fight than a legitimate sports organization. Titles are a selling point and they froth at the mouth for the opportunity to put a championship belt on a poster.

Pound for pound one of the smuggest fighters in the UFC, Luke Rockhold has every reason to come off as a cocky lunk. He’s been a champion in two organizations, he’s an international jiu-jitsu gold medalist, he works as a male model, he’s dated Demi Lovato – the list goes on. His talents as a grappler are impressive but the former Knockout of the Night winner is also excellent on his feet. He knows exactly how to use his tall frame in every aspect of mixed martial arts and once he gets in rhythm, it’s hard to throw him off his game. If Luke puts you in a dangerous position, he’s going to take quick advantage of it. If it needs to go five rounds, he’s got the cardio to keep up with the best in the division. His downfall, if anything, is his occasional overconfidence. We’ve seen him take opportunities lightly and pay the price. Sometimes he’ll even put himself in jeopardy to prove he’s the better man, but that’s because he usually is. Rockhold is great at leaching away his opponent’s will to fight and if he can score a takedown, his top control is only second-to-one – the guy he'll be standing across the ring from.

Cuba has a lot to be proud of with their Olympic silver medalist Yoel Romero. He’s literally worth his weight in gold trophies which span the Pan American Games, the Wrestling World Cup, and the Wrestling World Championships. The man could put King Kong on his back. Romero, the self-titled “Solider of “God”, has only lost one fight in the last four years which happened to be his last outing back in July. While Yoel might have lost the decision, he still managed to severely injure his opponent's knee in the opening round. His explosiveness should be feared and his power and his durability make him seem more like a walking tank than a man. Yoel has no quit in him and he’s looking to hurt you every minute of the fight, even if he times his offense like a jazz musician.

Endurance won’t be an issue in this case. Even the heavily-muscled Romero has no problem fighting for twenty-five minutes. He may slow down, but he’ll never stop. Out of the two men, Rockhold has the more dynamic skills and the easier ability to point-fight his way to a smart decision. That’s exactly what Romero will look to prevent. Yoel isn’t afraid to put his neck on the line to force the action and, unlike Whittaker, I don’t think Luke has the power to change his mind. Or to stop his takedowns. The Cuban has a steel chin and we rarely see Rockhold put people down with strikes. If he decides to turn it into a war of attrition, it's a different issue. Sticking to a gameplan will be important because if Luke tries to style on Romero or pull him into guard to chase a submission, he will find himself in trouble.

Luke needs to turn on the pressure from the opening bell and slowly wear on his opponent. He’ll probably have trouble utilizing his clinch takedowns, as Yoel is too skilled and won't be outwrestled by anyone but God. That means kickboxing will be his best option. While the fabulous Rockhold may be the rightful betting favorite, I think we’re undervaluing Romero’s ability. Sure, we just saw Whittaker build a blueprint to beat him, but not everyone is capable of fighting that same fight. That's where we find ourselves. Luke's accuracy and varied offensive attack may create a few questions for Yoel but I don't think they'll be anything he can't answer. The constant threat of a takedown will definitely stifle Rockhold’s stylish kicks and Romero will probably opt to wade through most of the offense. The former Olympian is no slouch on his feet and his speed will probably negate the reach advantage. We may actually get treated to an incredibly high-level grappling match, and putting Rockhold on his back might be riskier than it seems. Still, I’m officially siding with the underdog and think he prevents Luke from ever hitting his stride and takes an entertaining decision.

 

Mark Hunt x Curtis Blaydes for the sake of Heavyweight

Legendary “Super Samoan” Mark Hunt has had his squabbles with the UFC brass, hence his overnight expulsion from a main event slot in November of last year. Despite making up and undergoing some extracurricular medical testing, this co-main event matchup still feels like a punishment. Rankings-wise, it makes sense. However, Blaydes has almost no buzz around him and is a dangerously underrated competitor. Meanwhile, Mark Hunt is one of the most noteworthy names at heavyweight and his career tracks all the way back to Japan’s infamous PRIDE organization. The heavy-hitting Australian has undoubtedly made his mark but, at 43 years old, Hunt is on his way out of the sport. They’re trying to sell this as an easily winnable fight for Hunt in his own backyard, but in reality it’s a way for them to rebrand Curtis “Razor” Blaydes as a world-beater.

Before Saturday night, Blaydes biggest fight was against an up-and-coming Francis Ngannou. While the American took a loss via doctor’s stoppage, Blaydes proved that he wasn’t going to be pushed over. He kept the monstrous Ngannou in check with stiff 1-2 combinations and even managed a few takedowns.  In hindsight, he may have been able to win that fight if the doctor didn’t step in. That is the only loss on Curtis’ record and he’s won four straight since, racking up three TKOs and one decision.

Mark Hunt’s name can’t be said without the words “K-1 Level Striking” in conjunction. At least that’s what I’ve learned from multiple commentary teams. Unfortunately, those words don’t mean much in 2018. Hunt probably has dozens of slick kickboxing combinations burned into the back of his head by rote, but that’s never been his most important asset – that would be his actual head. These Samoan characters are classically known to absorb an unbelievable amount of damage. His impossibly heavy hands haven’t held him back, either. If there’s someone out there who can give it as good as he takes it, it’s Mark Hunt. He can eat 100 of your best punches, give you one back, and you’ll probably still feel like you got the bitter end of the bargain. The problem is these physical attributes don’t last forever.

UFC 221 will mark Hunt’s 70th professional fight, counting both MMA and kickboxing bouts. In his first 60 fights, he was stopped due to strikes only three times. In his last 10 fights, he’s been sent into the shadow-realm four times. Granted, those four KOs were against four legends in their own right, but the end is undeniably near. Nobody can fight forever, no matter how much we love them. The 26 year old Curtis Blaydes is on the up-and-up, despite not really making a name for himself, and the UFC wants this to be his coming out party.

We’re going to see the best Blaydes possible fly into Mark Hunt’s turf, meet him in the center of the octagon, and beat the storied contender in a “shocker”. Blaydes has a well-rounded game and Hunt won’t pack any surprises. If Curtis can avoid the hammers being swung at his head, there’s no reason for him not to take this. If all else fails, Blaydes can shoot for a takedown and put Hunt on his back, where he’s been notoriously helpless. I’m not particularly looking forward to it, but heavyweight needs the hype. Fair play to Mark Hunt, he’s got a chance, but I think the promotion is wringing him out for the sake of new blood.

 

BONUS RANT: The Middleweight Belt (More Rockhold and Romero Ridiculousness)

I’m going to dive into a brief history of the current middleweight championship and it will be enough to make your head spin. If you don’t feel like getting dizzy with me, feel free to skip this entire paragraph. In 2016, a mere 19 months ago, Luke Rockhold was the champion. In his first defense, he got knocked out by Michael Bisping. Bisping then went on to defend the title against two popular, albeit undeserving, challengers  – one of them on a single fight win streak and the other making his debut in the weight class after four years of retirement. It didn’t work out so well for him the second time, and he handed the title over to the previously retired fighter who then, once again, promptly retired. Meanwhile, the middleweight division is getting backed up. Two men, Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero, emerge as the two true best at 185 pounds. While Bisping is busy hand-picking his fights, Whittaker and Romero fight for an interim belt. Whittaker takes a decision and becomes an interim middleweight champion. After Bisping loses the belt to a retired fighter, Whittaker inherits the real championship. Next? Whittaker is booked to fight Rockhold, who’s won one fight since losing the title, and gets injured. Rockhold is then rebooked for an interim title fight against Romero, who just lost an interim title fight. That means this fight is for an interim championship and a chance to fight the former interim champion, and it’s between someone who just lost an interim fight and a former champion. I didn’t see Inception, but I also feel like now I don’t have to.