UFC 221 in Perth, Australia (Feb. 10) was meant to be a triumphant homecoming for newly minted UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker, but a serious injury to the Aussie has taken the shine off the card for locals. But do not fret. The UFC showed some nice scrambling ability and rejigged the main event to an interim middleweight title fight between Yoel Romero and Luke Rockhold. The winner will go on to battle Whittaker in a title unification once he is 100-percent healthy.
In the co-main event, the “Super Samoan,” Mark Hunt, takes on Curtis “Razor” Blaydes in a heavyweight tilt where it would be unwise to blink.
Yoel Romero (+105) vs. Luke Rockhold (-125): Interim Middleweight Championship
Big, bad Yoel Romero (12-2) enters this fight having won 83-percent of his bouts via knockout. An Olympic silver-medalist in freestyle wrestling, Romero doesn’t seem to care that he’s one of the most accomplished wrestlers to ever step foot into the Octagon; his statistics tell you what your eyes already knew: he loves to throw big power punches and vicious knees, averaging 2.99 significant strikes per minute, and he can end a fight as soon as it starts.
Former middleweight champ Luke Rockhold (16-3) is a well-round fighter who can hang no matter where the action takes place. Whether it’s a standup war or a grappling competition, the 33-year-old has the versatility to win in a variety of ways.
When he isn’t using his 75-inch reach, he’s utilizing his wrestling pedigree to either tie his opponents into knots or unleash some devastating ground and pound.
While Romero has the edge in power, Rockhold has a 1.5-inch reach advantage, and that could prove to be his path to victory. The Santa Cruz native throws effective combinations of kicks and punches, averages 4.34 significant strikes per minute, and is deadly accurate when doing so, connecting at 49.7-percent. His game-plan should be to wear Romero out by throwing volume strikes from distance and not allowing the Cuban to get in range for a takedown or power shot.
Since he lost the middleweight title to Michael Bisping back in 2016, Rockhold has only fought once, making quick work of David Branch last September. Romero is 40-years-old and is coming off a tough loss to current UFC middleweight champ Robert Whittaker last summer. He has never lost back-to-back fights in his career and is hoping to find a win to hopefully secure himself a rematch with the champ.
This is a very tough fight to wager on. Romero can definitely knock Rockhold out, but Rockhold has the stand-up to keep the big-man at bay in the early portions of the fight, when the aging Romero will be freshest. If the fight stretches into rounds four and five, conditioning will be key, and that’s an area where Rockhold has a distinct advantage. Romero is big for a middleweight and packs a lot of muscle on his frame; as we saw in the Whittaker fight, he fades in later rounds.
Rockhold has a good fight IQ and knows that his cardio is an asset here. Take the American to win a close fight, likely by decision. You can currently find him at -125.