UFC 221: Previewing the Five Most Important Bouts

In the dawning hours of February 10th, the UFC will put on their second pay-per-view card of the year in which the organization will visit Perth, Australia for the very first time.

Despite time-zone differences, North-American viewers can expect the same schedule for the event, which will see the preliminary card begin at 6:30 pm Eastern Time; with the main card commencing at 10:00pm.

At first glance the event does seem to lack star power with no unifying title-bout and only 7 fighters ranked in the top 15 of their respected divisions, but at least five significant battles will take place and are highlighted below.

5) Saparbek Saforov vs Tyson Pedro (13-LHW)

 

Images courtesy of ufc.com

On a card with very-few recognizable fighters to the average fan, hometown hero Tyson Pedro will help introduce the main-card portion of UFC 221 when he seeks to earn another top-15 opponent with a victory over tough-Russian, Saparbek Saforov.

Being raised with a father who was a major promoter of Mixed Martial Arts in Australia, Pedro quickly found his way into the UFC after going just 4-0 on the local scene. Since then, Pedro has put up a 2-1 record in the UFC, most recently suffering his first career loss to the 10th ranked Ilir Latifi late last year.

Congruent to Pedro, the man in the blue corner, Saparbek Saforov was also dished his first loss in his last fight when Gian Villante ended his night via strikes in the second round 14 months ago. Since then, the whereabouts of Saforov seem slightly unknown, but regardless, he once again has the chance to position himself into the top-15 of the UFC LHW rankings.

Based on what both fighters have shown in their UFC careers thus far, neither man seems like a ready candidate for a title-shot, but, a win for either man will guarantee themselves the opportunity to quickly rise-up an extremely weak Light-Heavyweight division in terms of depth. Should Pedro win, expect to see him paired up with the likes of Gian Villante or Jan Blachowicz to question whether he is ready for the divisions top-10.

Likewise, for Saforov, the commencement of a potential win-streak would put him in a position where he would quickly find himself matched up with the top athletes in the division, however, the Russian will likely miss out on the opportunity to do so.

When comparing the two fighters’ skillset, Pedro is far more diverse and has ousted opponents who’s main threat is punching power in the past. Though the Australian does hold a significantly lower finishing rate than his opponent at UFC 221, expect Pedro to please the crowd with a rear-naked or arm-triangle choke submission victory in the second round.

Prediction: Tyson Pedro Def. Saparbek Saforov via Submission (Choke) Round 2

 

4) Rob “Razor” Wilkinson vs Israel “The Last Stylebender” Adesanya

 

Images courtesy of ufc.com

It usually feels unjust to claim an undercard fight with no-ranked fighters will have more importance then a ranked-Light Heavyweight bout on the main card, however, the UFC debut of Israel Adesanya should be watched by all striking fans.

On the MMA scene, “The Last Stylebender” has posted an undefeated record of 11-0, finishing every one of those fights by KO or TKO before a third-round could even take place. Adding to this, Adesanya posted a 5-1 Pro boxing record and is a former Glory Kickboxing champion from less than 2 years ago. In short, the guys striking is elite (check out the highlight video)

Across from him, Rob “Razor” Wilkinson will look to spoil the debut of Adensanya, and definitely has the tools to do so. Despite having a similar reach to Adesanya, Wilkinson has little chance to reek any kind of success against “The Last StyleBender” on the feet. Should he able to close the distance and use his reach to get the fight to the ground though, Adesanya may be in for a surprisingly uneventful UFC debut.

As a Professional, Wilkinson has won via submission in 6 of his 11 fights and should unquestionably seek to use his ground-skills once again if he hopes to avoid a 2-fight losing streak. Per his lone-UFC performance, Wilkinson can get drawn-into a striking game if he feels comfortable on the feet. Based on the two having congruent reaches, I do think “Razor” will land a couple of shots that will trick him into thinking he may be able to stun Adensanya in a striking-war.

Sadly for the Australian, Adesanya is relentless on the feet and will likely land a couple nasty leg kicks before coming over the top with a head-kick or straight punch to stun Wilkinson and end his night shortly after. Wilkinson will put up a fight, but it just won’t be enough.

Prediction: Israel “The Last StyleBender” Adesanya Def. Rob “Razor” Wilkinson via TKO (Head-Kick + Punches) Rd. 1.

3) Curtis “Razor” Blaydes (9-HW) vs Mark “The Super Samoan” Hunt (5-HW)

 

Images courtesy of ufc.com

In the co-main event of the evening, sensational wrestler Curtis “Razor” Blaydes is seeking his first top-5 victory in the UFC when he looks to avoid being put to sleep by knockout artist, Mark “The Super Samoan” Hunt.

As both men enter the cage, expect to have the crowd on the side of Hunt who hails from New Zealand and currently holds a 3-1 record in fights that take place on the continent of Australia. For Blaydes, this will be only his second fight outside of the United States, losing to Francis Ngannnou in Croatia nearly 2 years ago.

Since that time, Blaydes has gone undefeated, posting a 3-0 record with 2 finishes (technically 4-0, but had one win changed to a NC due to a positive marijuana test). Over this win-streak, Blaydes has shown some developments in his striking game, however, he is primarily still reliant on his wrestling, especially after eating a few hard punches.

For Hunt, having an advantage over his opponent in the striking department always seems like a sure victory, yet, the Brock Lesnar fight did show us that even after years of training, Hunt still is susceptible to be taken down by elite wrestlers. Though Blaydes does struggle with being predictable, the Ngannou fight did illustrate that it is going to take an ox to knock “Razor” out cold; which the super Samoan is simply not at this point of his career. Hunt will likely start out strong and catch Blaydes with a few big shots, however, Blaydes toughness and wrestling will be enough to get him through with a rather anti-climactic unanimous decision win in Australia.

Prediction: Curtis “Razor” Blaydes Def. Mark “The Super Samoan” Hunt via UD (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)

 

2) Ben “10” Nguyen (8-Flyweight) vs Jussier “Formiga” Da Silva (4-Flyweight)

 

Images courtesy of ufc.com

It’s not often a bout with serious title implications is placed deep within the undercard, yet top-ranked flyweights Ben “10” Nguyen and Jussier Formiga will square off with one another in the first bout of the FS1 prelims at 8pm ET.

Although the placement of the bout has left many; including Nguyen, extremely puzzled, the opening match-up on Fox Sports 1 will be a defining matchup for both men. First, for Nguyen, this contest will inform audiences if Ben “10” is ready to fight the elites of the 125lbs division.

Most recently, Nguyen did have a quick submission victory over a highly-ranked opponent in Tim Elliot, but a dominating loss to Louis Smolka in 2016 still has critics wondering if Nguyen can be viewed as a serious contender in the flyweight division.

Like Nguyen, Jussier Formiga is also coming off a first-round submission victory in his last bout and is looking to solidify himself as a legitimate option as a potential opponent for long-time kingpin of the division, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson. Oppositely to Nguyen however, Da Silva has a tremendous amount of big-fight experience in the UFC as he has been a part of 4-number 1 contender fights in the past; unfortunately coming out with losses in every one of those fights. Formiga’s inability to come-up big in large fights has negatively impacted the status of his career, however, it should also be noted that the Brazilian has not lost a fight that didn’t involve direct title implications since being part of the UFC organization, going 6-0 in all non-number 1 contender bouts.

When the bout begins, expect Nguyen to come out of the gate quickly and look for a quick first-round finish before Formiga can find his timing on any takedowns. If Ben “10” is able to overwhelm Da Silva early, expect to see Nguyen climb up the rankings and likely fight the winner of Brandon Moreno vs Ray Borg later this year. If Nguyen fails to put away Formiga quickly, the BJJ black belt will certainly look to take the fight to the ground and control his opponent, but, it should be noted that Nguyen is extremely capable off his back and loves to flow-through wild grappling exchanges.

Overall, Nguyen’s inability to control where the fight goes and leave himself open to submissions in the wild exchanges does bring up some cause for concern that the veteran, Formiga should be able to expose. In spite of being rather limited in the striking department, Da Silva should be able to do just enough to Keep Nguyen from controlling him and will earn a split decision victory.

Prediction: Jussier “Formiga” Da Silva  Def. Ben “10” Nguyen via SD (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)

1) Luke Rockhold (2-MW) vs Yoel “The Soldier of God” Romero (1-MW)

 

Images courtesy of ufc.com

After going through a trio of alterations and one missed-weight cut, the main event at UFC 221 in Perth will be a five-round fight between #2 Ranked Middleweight, Luke Rockhold and #1, Yoel “The Soldier of God” Romero.

Originally, the bout was classified as a interim UFC-Middleweight title fight between the two men, however, since Romero has missed weight by nearly 3 pounds, only Rockhold is eligible to come away with the temporary title now.

For Romero, the drama surrounding his fight is nothing new as the “Solder of God” is constantly in the headlines for steroid accusations, cheating in fights, and being an extremely vocal individual when given the chance to speak his mind. Though Romero is not exactly one of the more liked UFC-athletes by fans and fighters alike, the Cuban’s credentials are simply undeniable. Romero is not only one of the greatest wrestlers in the organization, holding a silver-medal in freestyle wrestling from the 2000 games to his name, but is also one of the most explosive strikers the UFC banner has ever witnessed. As shown in fights against Chris Weidman and Derek Brunson, Romero is fearless in the octagon and is completely willing to take risks that he knows he will be rewarded for, being one of the only UFC fighters with multiple flying knee knockouts to his name.

Across from the “Soldier of God’, Luke Rockhold will return to Australia for the first time since decimating Michael Bisping with a one-arm guillotine choke a little over 3 years ago. After defeating Bisping, Rockhold went on to earn the Middleweight title a year later, however, he failed to defend it after being knocked out in a rematch against his rival, Michael Bisping.

Since that loss in June 2016, Rockhold has fought only one time, when he earned a second-round submission over former WSOF middleweight champion, David Branch. When Rockhold got the fight to the mat, he reminded audiences how suffocating he can be, but the biggest takeaway in that fight may have been his lack of success in the striking department. At this moment, all 3 of Rockholds career losses have come as a result of KO/TKO, and thus, he seems to be wary that his Achilles heel is likely his chin.

The key to beating Romero is by taking him into the later rounds and exploiting the large amounts of muscle-mass he must carry around that degrade his cardio. If Rockhold can implode a perfect defense for the first 2 rounds of the main-event, he has a great chance of getting Romero to commit to a sloppy-takedown and work his way to a guillotine or rear-naked choke.

Sadly for Rockhold fans, Romero is sure to connect cleanly with Rockhold on at least one shot before this, and when this happens, the fight will likely turn-ugly for the American. Rockhold will likely blame the loss on the extra-weight Romero has, but in the end the result will not differ.

Prediction: Yoel “The Soldier of God” Romero Def. Luke Rockhold Via TKO Round 2 (no interim belt won)

 

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