UFC 221 is in the books and it appears to be a mixed bag. There were some very vivid images burned into our memories and a few that will inevitably leave our minds before we wake up for the next day. Plus, we did NOT have a new interim champion crowned as Yoel Romero was ineligible to walk out with championship gold after missing weight for his contest with Luke Rockhold. Given many were against the idea of yet another interim belt being created, perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Or maybe it was… I don’t know. As for the rest of the winners and losers of the show, here they are:
Curtis Blaydes: I’m sure there are quite a few out there who don’t want to see Blaydes in this category as his decision to ground Hunt at every opportunity wasn’t exactly the most entertaining thing for fans to take in. But how can you rip on a victory over one of the top heavyweights of the last decade? Plus, was Blaydes’ wrestling really that boring? He ragdolled Hunt on multiple occasions, picking up the large New Zealander before slamming him to the ground. Many expected Blaydes to become one of the elite… just not this quickly. Can anyone else see a rematch with Francis Ngannou on the horizon in the next few years?
Tai Tuivasa: Even for a squash match, Tuivasa’s performance was impressive. He unloaded a bevy of strikes on Cyril Asker against the cage after hurting the Frenchman in the middle of the cage. Tuivasa’s striking arsenal is impressive as hell. Plus, did y’all see him drink a beer from a shoe after his fight? Tuivasa could be the young personality the heavyweight division has been desperate for.
Jake Matthews: Admittedly, I’ve been rough on the young Aussie as I’ve always felt he could be better than what he is. Then he goes out and puts on a performance like this that is not only the most complete of his career, but also overcomes the most blatant eye gouge in the history of MMA to pick up the win. To say it was a good night for Matthews is an understatement… outside of the eye gouge of course.
Tyson Pedro: I’m not saying Pedro’s performance was bad. His kimura was impressive as hell. But his post-fight interview with Jon Anik? Pure gold. The mic drop. The demand to be on Joe Rogan’s podcast. Talking about his wife and having a few beers. Pedro couldn’t have done more to appeal to fans. There are enough holes that could be found in his performance, but they don’t matter at the end of the day given how well Pedro built up his brand.
Israel Adesanya: It may have taken the exciting prospect a while to get going, but he lived up to the hype by the end. He teed off on Rob Wilkinson against the fence, unleashing a plethora of strikes that left fight fans drooling at his potential. His post-fight speech only added to the excitement as he declared himself a dog marking his territory in the cage. Fans love getting behind fighters with that type of bravado.
Alexander Volkanovski: It was supposed to be a close contest between two rising prospects. Instead, Volkanovski turned it into a slaughterhouse. He nearly pounded Jeremy Kennedy into the ground in the first round and proceeded to do so to close out the second. Dominant performances like this are typically reserved for squash matches. This wasn’t supposed to be a squash match. Those who weren’t on the Volkanovski train before are surely onboard now.
Jussier Formiga: One of the biggest winners of the night, Formiga delivered the highlight reel finish that he so badly needed to make a case for a title shot. He had thrown the spinning back fist earlier, but he didn’t land it cleanly ON Ben Nguyen until midway through the third round. When it did… BOOM! Who knew Formiga was capable of such violence? Given Demetrious Johnson has beaten everyone else in the division with a resume even coming close to Formiga’s, the Brazilian ma get his wish. However, I expect Uncle Dana will ask him to pick up one more win in the interim as the UFC continues to figure out the DJ vs. TJ fight.
Ross Pearson: Only just barely is The Real Deal making it into the winner’s column as the victory allows him to continue to ply his trade in the UFC. It was an incredibly close contest and Pearson was hardly in prime form. Nonetheless, I’d take being employed over the alternative any day.
Jose Quinones: Not a flawless performance, but certainly a good one that shows just how far the Mexican native has come since he first entered the UFC. He put on a solid all-around performance that boosted his win streak to four. Granted, he doesn’t have any notable wins yet, but you can only beat who they put in front of you.
Australian MMA: Before you point out the country’s favorite son in Mark Hunt lost, hear me out. Aside from the big man, the Aussies won all of their meaningful fights. Prospects Tuivasa, Matthews, Pedro, and Adesanya all walked out with convincing wins. Even though many were set up to win, they did so in very impressive manner. Australian MMA could be entering its golden age in short order.
Luke Rockhold: It’s official: Rockhold is chinny. Those rumors were floating out there following Rockhold’s knockout loss loss to Michael Bisping as Bisping doesn’t knock out anyone. Then he got rocked by David Branch and Branch is much like Bisping in that he doesn’t KO anyone. Now Rockhold got KO’d by Romero. That isn’t as condemning as the previous two bouts… except Romero had a severely limiting leg injury, bad enough Romero couldn’t stand up in his post-fight interview. Did anyone happen to catch Romero’s kiss to Rockhold after the AKA representative was again standing? Yeah, Rockhold ended up being trolled pretty damned hardcore with that. It appears unlikely Rockhold will ever sniff middleweight gold again given he’s looking at moving to light heavyweight. Maybe cutting less weight could be a good thing for his chin….
Mark Hunt: Hunt defended most on Blaydes’ takedown attempts early to make it look like he could do the improbable and secure a dance for the heavyweight gold strap before he becomes a free agent. Then the final two rounds happened and erased any chance of that ever happening as Hunt couldn’t keep the fight in the upright position. The loss pretty much guarantees Hunt won’t be getting any title shots before his contract expires, pretty much ensuring Hunt will never be a UFC champion.
Cyril Asker: Some may want to point out Asker’s toughness, but that toughness only prolonged the brutality he endured against Tuivasa. It was bad enough that Asker faceplanted into the canvas once the action was finally called. It’s a longshot Asker will ever be more than a talent enhancer.
Li Jingliang: Jingliang had been building up a nice little cult following in the MMA community as he developed from a boring grappler into a fun action fighter. Well… if you’re going to blatantly commit major fouls that have the potential of maiming your opponent, you’re going to be losing some fans along the way. I’ll admit Jingliang was able to make the fight an entertaining one – he did get a performance bonus for FOTN after all – but that eye gouge was despicable.
Rob Wilkinson: Wilkinson didn’t look as bad as many expected him to, arguably winning the first round against Adesanya as he doggedly pursued takedown after takedown. The problem is he couldn’t win any other way and Adesanya adjusted. Given Wilkinson fought the best fight he could and was still decimated, it’s likely he’s not UFC material.
Jeremy Kennedy: I didn’t like when his contest with Volkanovski was announced. When two prospects like them clash, one of them is bound to have their hype squashed barring an incredible fight from the both of them. It’s hard to find a prospect squashed as hard as Kennedy was. How he recovers mentally from this loss bears watching.
Ben Nguyen: It won’t go on his ledger as a KO loss to Formiga, but it may as well have been. The names of everyone else who has been KO’d by Formiga: there isn’t anyone else who has ever been KO’d by Formiga. That has to bruise Nguyen’s ego a bit and may permanently knock him out of the title picture.
Mizuto Hirota: It isn’t that Hirota looked bad. He had a solid case for the win no matter what the BS 30-27 scorecards read. However, he’s just not fast enough to keep up with fighters in the UFC as an unmotivated Cole Miller represents his only UFC win. He could be on the outside looking in now.
The UFC: Did anyone notice the polls on Twitter about who was watching UFC 221? How about the people sending in pics of half-empty bars that were showing the PPV? There appeared to be a record-low amount of interest in this PPV than there has been for any UFC PPV in years. I’m not blaming people as the UFC wasn’t even trying to put together a decent card that people would be willing to spend $65 dollars on – one squash match is bad for a PPV main card and this one featured two – so they’re pretty much getting what they deserve. Think they’ll listen to the fans? They haven’t been paying much attention to what the fans want as of late. I don’t see a strong enough reason they’ll start now.
Yoel Romero: Romero was incredibly difficult to place. He walked out with a massive victory which could end up getting him a second contest with the champion, Robert Whittaker. Plus, he did what he did while fighting on a badly injured leg, potentially even broken. But he also didn’t get to take home the interim middleweight title due to him missing weight… and he may have broken his leg. No one knows for sure how badly Romero’s snafu at the weigh-ins will cost him, which means I couldn’t commit to Romero as either a winner or a loser. If he gets a title shot despite it, he’s a winner. If it ends up costing him, he’s a loser. We just don’t know how it will all play out.
Saparbek Safarov: I know Safarov’s loss was pretty bad. In fact, there aren’t too many who would get caught in a kimura the same way he was. But Safarov was supposed to be squashed by Pedro. In fact, Safarov was doing better than expected. Given he didn’t get blasted the way Asker was in the other squash match on the main card, I can’t label Safarov a loser.
Dong Hyun Kim: I strongly considered putting Kim in the loser’s column, but decided I couldn’t do it. Why penalize a guy for fighting smarter and picking up a victory? Well, Kim had a reputation as an action fighter heading into this contest. He didn’t live up to it in any form against Brown. Given his employment in the UFC is strongly tied to his reputation as an action fighter – his ceiling is relatively low – he needs to be putting on entertaining contests.
Damien Brown: Much like his opponent, Kim, Brown’s reputation is that of an action fighter. He didn’t come close to living up to that reputation and took a loss to boot. That makes three losses in a row for the Aussie against less than stellar competition. Had this contest been up to his usual level, I’d say his chances of remaining on the roster were better than good. After this, I’m not so sure.
Teruto Ishihara: I strongly considered throwing him in the loser’s column, but felt he looked good enough in his bantamweight debut that I couldn’t bring myself to do that. The mischevious Ishihara will never be a contender, but he continues to progress enough that he should be able to hang around as an action fighter for a while.
Luke Jumeau: Kudos to Jumeau for coming back strong when Daichi Abe dominated the first round. Had there not been a stoppage as a result of the legal damage delivered by Abe in the third round, I’d label Jumeau a winner. Instead, Jumeau ended up getting a break, tainting what would have been a winning performance otherwise.
Daichi Abe: Based on the rules of MMA, Abe should have won as he created a stoppage in the action with a legal blow when he punched Jumeau in the eye. Unfortunately, the referee wasn’t able to recognize that and operated under the assumption Abe poked Jumeau in the eye. I can’t put Abe in the loser’s column when he should have won, especially when this loss doesn’t really do any damage to his career progression. The youngster will learn from this loss.