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UFC 221: Romero vs. Rockhold post-fight results and analysis

Mookie Alexander recaps UFC 221: Romero vs. Rockhold, including the vicious KO by Yoel Romero in the main event.

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

UFC 221 is in the books, and Yoel Romero ended the card by wiping out Luke Rockhold in sensational fashion. Third Round Romero struck again, but unfortunately he doesn’t win the interim middleweight title because he missed weight. The good news for the Cuban is it looks as if he’s going to fight Robert Whittaker next, according to Dana White.

Unless you want to give the next shot to Ronaldo Souza (KO’d by Whittaker two fights ago) or Chris Weidman (whose win over Kelvin Gastelum ended a three-fight losing streak), or Kelvin Gastelum himself (KO’d Michael Bisping), this outcome pretty much gives the UFC no choice but to hand Romero the title shot even though he came in heavy. It’s probably the most fitting thing I can think of when describing the chaotic scene that is the top of the middleweight division.

We’ll see if Romero takes a different approach to fighting Whittaker in the rematch, because against Rockhold he didn’t bother with takedowns at all. He was also limping at the end of the fight, so Rockhold’s leg kicks may have injured him.

More thoughts on Saturday’s event:

Main Card

  • Rockhold should just go to light heavyweight permanently. It’s healthier for him and also it’s a worse division than middleweight. The long-term problem for Rockhold is that he’s still a very wooden boxer with huge defensive flaws in his striking, and against someone like Alexander Gustafsson that’s recipe for disaster. He may find it difficult to win a belt again for as long as these issues remain uncorrected. Rockhold flashed an effective jab against Romero, but he’s way too uncomfortable when put on the defensive, and Romero made him pay.
  • Jon Anik and Jimmy Smith as the future #1 UFC broadcast team is something I fully support. Joe Rogan doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon, but he’s also not going to be around forever. Anik and Smith had their first commentary assignment together, and it made for an enjoyable listen. It still feels weird hearing Smith on a UFC show, though.
  • Curtis Blaydes got rocked and nearly knocked out by Mark Hunt in round 1, but his wrestling looked superb against a guy who’s usually difficult to takedown and hold down. Not since the loss to Stipe Miocic have we seen Hunt just ragdolled like that, and Blaydes’ cardio held up impressively. We have a new heavyweight contender, and he’s only 26! Can you believe that?
  • Tai Tuivasa predictably clobbered Cyril Asker with about 500 strikes in a couple of minutes. Elbows, punches to the head, body shots, they were all there for Tuivasa and Asker was there to get his ass kicked. Tuivasa is just 24 years old, and at the very least he’s an action fighter. The optimism is that he can eventually become a contender, but of course we’ll need to see him against better competition, as well as how he fights when he doesn’t crush people inside of a round.
  • Jake Matthews turned in the best performance of his career, twice dropping Li Jingliang on his way to a dominant unanimous decision. Li should’ve been disqualified outright for the flagrant eye gouging in round 2, as he looked to get out of a tight guillotine. It was his second foul of the fight -- the other was grabbing Matthews’ gloves -- but it’s MMA, so we know how punishments for fouls work. That’s entirely the referee’s fault, and that should result in some disciplinary action for Mark Simpson. AT least Matthews still got the win and reignited interest in his young career.
  • Light heavyweight prospect Tyson Pedro engaged in a fun (but often sloppy) scrap with Saparbek Safarov, then Pedro spectacularly used a kimura sweep to put Safarov on the bottom, then tapped him out with a kimura. Then he called for Joe Rogan to make him a guest on his podcast, in what was a really entertaining post-fight interview. Enjoy your generous amount of beer, my good man!

Preliminary Card

  • Dong Hyun Kim versus Damien Brown was supposed to be a fun fight. It wasn’t. Just a forgettable kickboxing match that saw Kim get the nod on two of the three scorecards.
  • Israel Adesanya’s Octagon debut was as good as advertised, if not a little better in my view. He stuffed most of Rob Wilkinson’s takedowns, and it was a total no-contest on the feet, as he casually just lit up the tough-but-overmatched Wilkinson and got the TKO in round 2. He also provided us with this excellent post-fight quote, “Middleweights, I’m the new dog in this yard. And I just pissed all over this cage.” The UFC needs to give him the slow build, rack up the highlight-reel wins, and promote the hell out of this guy. He’s an outstanding personality and a superb combat sports talent.
  • Alex Volkanovski needs a top-15 opponent next. He just mauled Jeremy Kennedy from start to finish and got the second-round TKO through his savage ground-and-pound. He really is a powerful, Khabib-ish type figure who has excellent strike selection and a great gas tank. I can’t wait to see how he fares against the better featherweights on the roster.
  • Jussier Formiga reminded everyone that he’s still one of the best flyweights in the world, as he floored Ben Nguyen with a spinning backfist and then sunk in the rear-naked choke to put Nguyen to sleep. When Formiga has your back, you are done for. A great win by Formiga, who’s on a winning streak for the first time since 2015.
  • Ross Pearson snapped his four-fight losing streak with a measured performance and a decision win vs. Mizuto Hirota. Pearson was hurt towards the end of round 2, but avoided getting dropped and got himself back into things by taking the final round.
  • Jose Quinonez spoiled Teruto Ishihara’s bantamweight debut with a unanimous decision win. Truth be told, I’ve forgotten much of this fight because it was that unremarkable. I scored it for Ishihara because he had Quinonez hurt in rounds 1 and 2, but he lost basically every other part of the fight through sheer inactivity.
  • Luke Jumeau rallied from a difficult round 1 to defeat Daichi Abe by unanimous decision, taking advantage of Abe’s gas tank woes and also exploiting that problem by going to the body a lot. There was some controversy in round 3, as Jumeau essentially was granted a timeout after his left eye started bleeding heavily, but it was a legal punch that caused it, not a headbutt or eye poke. Abe could’ve gotten a TKO out of that, instead he ends up with a loss.

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