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411’s MMA Roundtable Preview – UFC 221: Romero vs. Rockhold

February 10, 2018 | Posted by Dan Plunkett
UFC 221 Luke Rockhold Yoel Romero - Tai Tuivasa

WELCOME:
The interim middleweight title hangs in the balance when Luke Rockhold faces Yoel Romero in the main event of UFC 221! In the co-main event, heavyweight staple Mark Hunt battles the up-and-coming Curtis Blaydes. Also at heavyweight Tai Tuivasa fights Cyril Asker. Plus, Jake Matthews takes on Li Jingliang in welterweight action, Tyson Pedro vs. Saparbek Safarov, and more!

THE STAFF:

  • He’ll lock you in the guillotine, Robert Winfree!

  • He’s 411’s Jack of All Trades, Jeffrey Harris!

  • And your host for this roundtable, Dan Plunkett!

    THE PRELIMINARY CARD:
    Welterweight Bout: Luke Jumeau vs. Daichi Abe

    Jeffrey Harris: Luke Jumeau, Decision
    Robert Winfree: Daichi Abe, TKO, Round 2
    Dan Plunkett: Abe, Decision
    The staff picks Daichi Abe, 2-1.

    Bantamweight Bout: Teruto Ishihara vs. Jose Alberto Quinonez

    Jeffrey Harris: Teruto Ishihara, Decision
    Robert Winfree: Jose Alberto Quinonez, Decision
    Dan Plunkett: Quinonez, Decision
    The staff picks Jose Alberto Quinonez, 2-1.

    Lightweight Bout: Ross Pearson vs. Mizuto Hirota

    Jeffrey Harris: Ross Pearson, Decision
    Robert Winfree: Mizuto Hirota, Decision
    Dan Plunkett: Hirota, Decision
    The staff picks Mizuto Hirota, 2-1.

    Flyweight Bout: Jussier Formiga vs. Ben Nguyen

    Jeffrey Harris: Ben Nguyen, Submission, Round 2
    Robert Winfree: Ben Nguyen, Decision
    Dan Plunkett: Formiga, Decision
    The staff picks Ben Nguyen, 2-1.

    Featherweight Bout: Jeremy Kennedy vs. Alexander Volkanovski

    Jeffrey Harris: Jeremy Kennedy, Decision
    Robert Winfree: Alexander Volkanovski, Decision
    Dan Plunkett: Volkanovski, Decision
    The staff picks Alexander Volkanovski, 3-0.

    Middleweight Bout: Rob Wilkinson vs. Israel Adesanya

    Jeffrey Harris: Israel Adesanya, TKO, Round 2
    Robert Winfree: Israel Adesanya, TKO, Round 1
    Dan Plunkett: Adesanya, TKO, Round 2
    The staff picks Israel Adesanya, 3-0.

    Lightweight Bout: Damien Brown vs. Dong Hyun Kim

    Jeffrey Harris: Dong Hyun Kim, Decision
    Robert Winfree: Damien Brown, TKO, Round 3
    Dan Plunkett: Kim, Decision
    The staff picks Dong Hyun Kim, 2-1.


    THE MAIN CARD:
    Light Heavyweight Bout: Tyson Pedro vs. Saparbek Safarov

    Jeffrey Harris: Australian fighter and prospect Tyson Pedro looks to get back on the winning track against Russian fighter Saparbek Safarov. Safarov got knocked out by the likes of Gian Villante, so Tyson Pedro definitely isn’t facing a world beater here. Hopefully, the Ilir Latifi fight was a good learning experience for him, and he will get back to his winning ways here because light heavyweight definitely needs some up-and-coming talent. I’m picking Tyson Pedro to dominate this fight and pick up another win here knockout.

    Winner: Tyson Pedro, TKO, Round 2

    Robert Winfree: Tyson Pedro, like so many would be contenders in the division, failed to graduate to something approaching the higher level in his last fight when he was bested by Ilir Latifi. That isn’t the end of the world though, Pedro is still very young and the division still really sucks, so the UFC is giving him a get well fight in this instance. I don’t see too much reason to think he won’t be successful.

    Winner: Tyson Pedro, TKO, Round 1

    Dan Plunkett: This is a winnable fight for Pedro, who is limited, but very capable of ending fights with his power.

    Winner: Pedro, TKO, Round 1

    The staff picks Tyson Pedro, 3-0.


    Welterweight Bout: Jake Matthews vs. Li Jingliang

    Jeffrey Harris: Jake Matthews is another Australian fighter who gets to fight at home here. He faces the surging Chinese prospect, Li Jingliang. Jingliang is riding a four-fight winning streak here, and three of those last four fights were wins by knockout. Both these men are tough and talented welterweight fighters, but I think Li Jingliang is going to play spoiler here with his superior striking and knockout power. Li Jingliang walks away with the knockout win here.

    Winner: Li Jingliang, TKO, Round 2

    Robert Winfree: Jake Matthews is the better athlete, but he struggles when fights get ugly and Jingliang thrives on ugly chaotic fights because it sets up his clinch takedowns and leaves openings for his surprising power. If Matthews is to win he must keep things methodical and technical, but I have a feeling he’ll get wild and wind up being saved by the ref while Jingliang keeps on rolling.

    Winner: Li Jingliang, TKO, Round 2

    Dan Plunkett: It feels like Matthews, 23, has been around for much longer than he really has. This is his second fight back at welterweight after a short lightweight run. Last time out, he didn’t look good, but escaped with the decision. He’s lost three of his past six fights, so he’ll need a good win here to regain some momentum. At his best, Matthews is strong on top with good grappling. When he doesn’t get the fight there, he has a much harder go of things. If we see the Jake Matthews that fought Bojan Velickovic in November, Li Jingliang is going to beat him up on the feet. If he’s able to out-wrestle Jingliang, it will be Matthews’s night. Until we see another strong performance from Matthews, I lean toward the former occurring.

    Winner: Li Jingliang, TKO, Round 3

    The staff picks Li Jingliang, 3-0.


    Heavyweight Bout: Tai Tuivasa vs. Cyril Asker

    Jeffrey Harris: It seems a little odd that this fight got a spot on the main card. However, it’s here because Tai Tuivasa is from Australia, he’s undefeated, and he got a knockout with a flying knee in his Octagon debut against Rashad Coulter. He’s facing a beatable opponent here in the 2-2 UFC fighter Cyril Asker, who is coming off a win Yaozong Hu at UFC Fight Night 122. I don’t have high expectation because it’s a heavyweight fight here. My main hope is that Tuivasa can hurt Asker and end this quickly. Heavyweight fights that go past the first round tend to get really awful really quick.

    Winner: Tai Tuivasa, TKO, Round 1

    Robert Winfree: I really hope this ends quickly. Heavyweight is in pretty dire need of young guys who will become talented enough to oust the old guard, and Tuivasa is someone who might fit that bill. While his debut was a successful one, the talent level was on the lower side of things. Not that Asker is some massive leap up from Rashad Coulter mind you. This is another one designed to give the local guy the rub, and while Asker might surprise a few people I think the matchmaking here was very deliberate.

    Winner: Tai Tuivasa, TKO, Round 1

    Dan Plunkett: Tuivasa is a big dude that hits hard. He could be someone to watch out for. None of his opponents have made it out of the first round yet, so…

    Winner: Tuivasa, KO, Round 1

    The staff picks Tai Tuivasa, 3-0.


    Heavyweight Bout: Mark Hunt vs. Curtis Blaydes

    Jeffrey Harris: Mark Hunt looks to keep his momentum going after defeating Derrick Lewis and now faces Curtis Blaydes. Blaydes has done OK for himself since he came into the UFC. Unfortunately for him, he got a knockout win over Adam Milstead overturned into a No Contest for a failed drug test for marijuana. His only loss in the UFC so far was to then future heavyweight title contender, Francis Ngannou, at UFC Fight Night 86 in 2016. I wouldn’t consider Curtis Blaydes elite, but he is a talented fighter overall. However, he’s facing a very experienced and dangerous striker and kickboxer in Mark Hunt. Blaydes does have a junior collegiate wrestling background, and he won a junior college national title. However, Mark Hunt has shown marked improvement in recent years with his overall MMA grappling defense and takedown defense. He also displayed a lot more patience fighting Derrick Lewis. I’m a bit back and forth on this one, but I’m going to go ahead and pick Mark Hunt, but Blaydes pulling out a win with his wrestling and ground and pound wouldn’t surprise me.

    Winner: Mark Hunt, TKO, Round 2

    Robert Winfree: I don’t know what I did to deserve two heavyweight fights on the main card of a PPV, but I’m sorry for whatever it is. Blaydes will try to keep this either at distance or on the mat, Hunt will try to take his head off with a lunging left hook or bait him into ducking into a right uppercut. Hunt is getting up there in years and miles and it could be he’s slowed down enough to allow Blaydes to pick up the win, but Blaydes showed a lot of brawling habits in his last few fights and against Hunt that’s more than likely going to end up with you unconscious.

    Winner: Mark Hunt, TKO, Round 1

    Dan Plunkett: I don’t care to see Hunt fight again after what he wrote last year about having memory issues, but here we are I supposed. At 43, Hunt is still near the top of the division because it has been almost completely unable to produce a new crop of promising fighters. Blaydes, who is seventeen years younger than Hunt, has shown steady progression in the UFC, but his striking isn’t there to compete with Hunt yet. He may have success wrestling with Hunt, although Hunt isn’t the easiest guy to take down. I think we’ll see a cautious fight (Robert’s worst nightmare, I’m sure) that ends with Hunt getting the win.

    Winner: Hunt, Decision

    The staff picks Mark Hunt, 3-0.


    UFC Interim Middleweight Championship Bout: Yoel Romero vs. Luke Rockhold

    Jeffrey Harris: I’m confidently picking Luke Rockhold to win this fight. Yoel Romero is an impressive athlete and a great wrestler. His physique looks unreal. However, he made a lot of fragrant errors against Robert Whittaker. For starters, he took a whole round off in that fight. You simply can’t do junk like that in a five-round MMA fight. Rockhold also has a much better fight IQ and ability to game plan and strategize than Romero. Romero is an elite level wrestler. He took the silver at the Olympics. However, his cardio for MMA has always been sort of questionable. Provided Rockhold can weather the early storm where he tends to struggle, he will control the fight as it goes longer. He will use his superior size, strength, and stamina to get Rockhold to the mat and then submit him or ground and pound him to a finish after Romero starts to get tired.

    Winner: Luke Rockhold, TKO, Round 4

    Robert Winfree: I’ve gone back and forth on this one, and in the end I’m picking what I think is the less likely outcome. Luke Rockhold is a tremendously skilled fighter, his top game is absolutely crushing and at distance he pounds his opponents with body kicks to force them into uncomfortable positions. His game is entirely predicated on control, controlling the distance and pacing of striking, controlling the clinch location, controlling his opponent on the mat. What makes this interesting to me is how uncontrollable Yoel Romero is. It’s not impossible to control him, but it is incredibly difficult. Based purely on skills this should go to Rockhold, he’s more well rounded and has shown significantly better cardio and ability to pace himself over a five round fight. Despite that there’s a few things that work in Romero’s favor. First is that both men are southpaws, and Rockhold’s kicking offense isn’t nearly as lethal when he can’t fire that kick into the open stance of his opponent. The other is Rockhold’s punching game, which relies heavily on stepping back and throwing a counter right hook. In fact his punching is so heavily reliant on that technique that even a somewhat mediocre striker like David Branch exploited it before Rockhold controlled him in the clinch. Rockhold simply doesn’t do well in chaos, he thrives on control and enforcing his will on a fight and Romero resists that on basically every level. I should pick Rockhold, he’s more proven and more consistent, and statistically his is the more likely victory, but I’m going with Romero. I’m more than prepared to be wrong about this one.

    Winner: Yoel Romero, TKO, Round 1

    Dan Plunkett: I almost never pick Yoel Romero fights correctly. He’s not particularly great at striking, but his unreal athleticism has led him score some explosive knockouts. His cardio is not what you want to see from an elite fighter, but even in late rounds his opponents have to be cautious because he’s extremely dangerous in short bursts. Rockhold is great everywhere, but slower and less powerful fighters have capitalized on holes he’s left them. I lean toward Rockhold, but this is close.

    Winner: Rockhold, Decision

    The staff picks Luke Rockhold, 2-1.


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