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UFC 221: Romero vs. Rockhold staff picks and predictions

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Check out the Bloody Elbow staff’s picks and predictions for Saturday’s UFC 221: Romero vs. Rockhold fight card.

The Bloody Elbow staff has made its predictions for Saturday’s UFC 221 card in Perth, Australia. Opinion is fairly divided on who will win the main event between Luke Rockhold and Yoel Romero, which is fitting considering the 50-50 nature of this one. Our thoughts are also split on the co-main between Mark Hunt and Curtis Blaydes. As for the rest of the main card? Yeah… completely unanimous.

Note: Predictions are entered throughout the week and collected the day before the event. Explanations behind each pick are not required and some writers opt not to do so for their own reasons. For example, if Phil Mackenzie entered all of his predictions on Wednesday without adding in any explanations, he has no idea if he’s going to be the only one siding with one fighter for any given fight.

Luke Rockhold vs. Yoel Romero

Mookie Alexander: Selfishly, I want Rockhold to win because it’s just more interesting to see him against Robert Whittaker than Whittaker vs. Romero 2, a fight I think Whittaker wins even more conclusively than he did the first time. Romero isn’t a guy who finishes people quickly, but the mere fact that he’s so dangerous in the later rounds presents a different challenge for Luke. That said, I trust Rockhold’s cardio to hold up in a five-rounder, he has a more diverse ground game than Romero (zero career submission attempts), and I believe his kicks will be key to effecting Romero’s gas tank as the fight progresses. You always have to be concerned about Romero’s KO power, as well as the potential for him to put Rockhold on his back and deliver some punishment, but I believe Rockhold gets the win in a tough, highly competitive contest. Luke Rockhold by unanimous decision.

Eddie Mercado: This seems to be a classic case of Casey Jones trying to best a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Unless Rockhold comes to the cage with a Cricket Bat, I’m taking Raphael here. I found this old clip of their 1st fight from 1990; click HERE. In all seriousness, these are 2 elite warriors on opposite ends of the stylistic spectrum and this will determine the true middleweight champ for me… at least until Robert Whittaker returns. A strong argument can be made for either man, but I’ve seen Romero eat a full on head kick from Derek Brunson like it was nothing, while I’ve seen Rockhold get slumped by Michael Bisping. Durability wins out here for me. Yoel Romero by KO in round 2.5.

Victor Rodriguez: Rockhold has underrated submissions and the best kicking game in the division, but his striking defense is still spotty. We saw from the David Branch fight that he can be cracked, and Romero’s funky boxing style isn’t just functional, it throws guys off. Even under the guidance of Henri Hooft, Rockhold is still likely to revert to bad habits, which will lead to the striking battles being closer than they should be on the feet. Once it hits the ground (and it inevitably will), Romero’s top game bets brutal. Half guard gives Luke some opportunity to get out, but side control can be a death sentence. Yoel Romero by TKO, round 3.

Fraser Coffeen: There’s an obvious, easy pick here and that’s Romero by KO. After all, Yoel likes to KO people, Rockhold likes to put his hands down… sometimes it’s not rocket science. BUT – I just don’t see that. The problem is, when Rockhold loses, he loses because he is arrogant and too casual, and he loses early. Romero is not typically a R1 finisher kind of guy – he waits out his opponents, then strikes later. Rockhold though won’t give him that later. I anticipate Rockhold coming in way more focused than he was against Bisping, making it a technical battle early, and wearing Romero down much as Whittaker did. That Whittaker fight is key for me, as I also thought it was the first time Romero’s age showed. I don’t see Rockhold as invincible by any means, but his strengths should play well here. Luke Rockhold, TKO, R4

Staff picking Rockhold: Bissell, Mookie, Tim, Phil, Fraser, Stephie
Staff picking Romero: Nick, Harry, Dayne, Eddie, Victor

Mark Hunt vs. Curtis Blaydes

Mookie Alexander: I don’t really have a good read on this one. Blaydes is a very athletic fighter who has strong leg kicks but still looks a tad uncomfortable as a striker, and when faced against Daniel Omielanczuk it became an utter slog when he couldn’t get the takedowns. It’s more than possible that Blaydes has the wrestling to get Hunt to the ground and beat him up from there, and I’m generally worried about Hunt against any fighter who has power and functional mobility. That said, Hunt has still only lost to elite competition in recent years, and at some point that may end, but I don’t think it’ll be tomorrow. Hunt will land enough strikes and stuff enough shots to get the W. Mark Hunt by unanimous decision.

Eddie Mercado: Since his disastrous 6-Fight losing streak from 2006 to 2010, Hunt has only lost to elite world champions. Blaydes is not there yet and just too green imo, so I’m sticking with the HW old guard here. Mark Hunt by TKO in Round 2.

Victor Rodriguez: Yes, Hunt is older and a bit slower. Yes, a hulking wrestler should be a problem for him. No, I’m not giving up on the toughest Kiwi ever. Especially not with the magic aura of all the KFCs in Perth. Super Samoan Mark Hunt by KO, round 2.

Fraser Coffeen: I’ve picked Hunt against the odds many, many times, but I can’t do it here. I don’t trust his focus and desire to fight at this stage, and I don’t see this being a good stylistic match-up for him. Sorry. Curtis Blaydes, UD

Staff picking Hunt: Harry, Mookie, Tim, Eddie, Victor, Stephie
Staff picking Blaydes: Nick, Bissell, Dayne, Phil, Fraser

Tai Tuivasa vs. Cyril Asker

Mookie Alexander: Asker loses to guys who are better athletes than him, and he’s also been knocked out by arguable middleweight Jared Cannonier. I have concerns about Tuivasa fighting beyond round 1, but he’s no doubt powerful enough to get the KO here. Tai Tuivasa by KO, round 1.

Phil Mackenzie: After Ngannou, Blaydes and Golm, this is what a heavyweight prospect looks like in the UFC. Tuivasa is a giant blubbery man who can move with surprising speed. Asker is a guy. He can grapple a bit, and strike a bit less, but he’s not really big, powerful, durable or fast. It still wouldn’t surprise me to see Tuivasa just flail and fall over, or gas out, but he does have a bit of that Hunt calmness under pressure, and surprising little touches of timing and pace control. Tai Tuivasa by TKO, round 1.

Eddie Mercado: I don’t think Asker has a heavyweight chin and Bam Bam is too wild to not touch said chin. I’m looking forward to Tuivasa swaggin’ on the mic after he catches this body. Tai Tuivasa by KO in round 1.

Victor Rodriguez: Asker is just horrid to watch. His striking is super basic, while his grappling consists of long hugs and deep panting. The biggest problem is that he’s frequently at a reach disadvantage and a major athleticism disadvantage. It’s telling that his UFC losses have been to Walt Harris and Jared Cannonier. Tai Tuivasa is also a training partner of Mark Hunt, which means that he’s absorbed god-level badassery by osmosis. Besides, did you see Asker’s last fight against Yaozong Hu? Guh. You can’t watch a performance like that and not see where his ceiling is. He’s hit that ceiling, and in this time the ceiling hits him even harder. Tai Tuivasa by Potemkin Revelator, round 1.

Staff picking Tuivasa: Nick, Harry, Bissell, Mookie, Dayne, Tim, Phil, Eddie, Fraser, Stephie
Staff picking Asker:

Jake Matthews vs. Li Jingliang

Mookie Alexander: Matthews seems to have no idea what type of fighter he wants to be, and it’s cost him the status of being an intriguing prospect on a path towards contention. He’s nowhere near that now, and I think The Leech is gonna wipe him out on the feet. Li Jingliang by TKO, round 2.

Phil Mackenzie: Matthews is bumming me out a bit nowadays. He’s a nice guy and incredibly talented, but doesn’t seem to really know what kind of fighter he wants to be, and nor do I suspect that he’s really finding out under the tutelage of his Dad. I do not think he beat Bojan Velickovic and that’s not a very high bar in the division. Most concerningly is that he seemed incapable of striking and went for tons and tons of takedowns, most of which didn’t work. And why would they? As the old saying goes:

”If it’s grappling ye need

Big for the class should be your creed

If it’s punching ye like,

Go up in weight and strike”

At the moment Matthews doesn’t seem to have a consistent baseline approach for his game, and thus has lost bouts to a better athlete, a grittier but physically mediocre fighter, a slow plodding guy, and an opportunist. He’s all over the shop. The Leech has most of the flaws of Velickovic (hittable, somewhat slow) but is just way more offensively active in every phase. Once he gets passed the first round he just starts breaking people down with his bread and butter of jab, right hand and leg kick. Matthews lacks both bread and butter. Li Jingliang by TKO, round 2.

Victor Rodriguez: Matthews was a special talent that has reached a nebulous point in which he can’t seem to find a solid base to lean on. He’s still talented, but a pressure-heavy wrestler that can bang out brutal punches out of nowhere can ruin his night. And that’s what he’s got on the menu for this fight. Bernie Mac RIP. Jangle Leg by decision.

Staff picking Matthews:
Staff picking Jingliang: Nick, Harry, Bissell, Mookie, Dayne, Tim, Phil, Eddie, Victor, Fraser, Stephie

Tyson Pedro vs. Saparbek Safarov

Mookie Alexander: Pedro hits hard and if he felt like it he could probably win this on the ground, too. Safarov is tough, but not actually very good at anything. Tyson Pedro by TKO, round 1.

Phil Mackenzie: Pedro is taking a major (and probably needed) step down in competition. Safarov is going to blunder forward and try for takedowns, and they’re probably not going to work. Pedro hits way harder, and while he got out-gamed by the crafty Latifi, he showed that he’s at least tough. This would be a bad, bad loss for him. Tyson Pedro by TKO, round 2.

Victor Rodriguez: Tough out for Safarov. Pedro’s got pop on his punches, and he knows when and where to throw them from. Safarov hits hard, but can run out of answers against a better athlete that can take a serious beating. Safe money’s on the guy with the better tattoos. Tyson Pedro by TKO, round 2.

Staff picking Pedro: Nick, Harry, Bissell, Phil, Mookie, Dayne, Tim, Phil, Eddie, Fraser, Stephie
Staff picking Safarov:

Damien Brown vs. Dong Hyun Kim

Phil Mackenzie: This is a close fight with little to choose between the two men. Both are essentially brawlers, albeit with Brown working off the back foot and Maestro liking to pressure. Brown is slightly more defensively sound (in the same way that, say, The Riddler can be described as being slightly more sane than The Joker), but also more likely to put himself in compromising situations, namely backed into the fence. Kim has been moving towards mixing up his strikes with cage-wrestling of late, and while I think it might tire him out more than Brown, I think that control time will be the difference in a narrowly contested and fun fight. Dong Hyun Kim by unanimous decision.

Victor Rodriguez: God, I’ve been so wrong about Kim in the past. Brown’s the more reckless of the two, but more likely to bounce back and close gaps quick when he’s being pressured. Kim’s got a habit of throwing himself into dreadful situations. Playing it safe on the local guy here, too. Damian Brown by decision.

Staff picking Brown: Tim, Victor
Staff picking Kim: Nick, Harry, Bissell, Mookie, Dayne, Phil, Eddie, Fraser, Stephie

Israel Adesanya vs. Rob Wilkinson

Phil Mackenzie: Seems like a fight made for Adesanya to show off. Wilkinson is reasonably well-rounded. He can strike, wrestle and submit, but his defense is not really there at all, and he’s at a sizable athletic disadvantage. Adesanya hasn’t fought very good MMA competition, with his “name” win being a fat and washed Melvin Guillard, but a lot of that has just been getting his sea-legs to leverage his striking game. The Stylebender is ridiculous fun, throwing off-angle shots with fists, knees and elbows. He has a nasty clinch game and a mean streak. Israel Adesanya by TKO, round 1.

Victor Rodriguez: Much respect to Wilkinson, but DUDE, IS YOU CRAZY? Adesanya’s here to rep Nigeria harder than Samuel Peter. Maybe he’ll ask who necks. New dude superstyles on this cat, hard. Israel Adesanya by Street Fighter Alpha combo that was previously thought to be an impossibility until now. Round 1.

Fraser Coffeen: Adesanya!! If you were pumped for Gokhan Saki coming to the UFC, you should be pumped for this. If you weren’t, what is the matter with you? Israel Adesanya, KO, R1

Staff picking Adesanya: Nick, Bissell, Mookie, Dayne, Tim, Phil, Harry, Eddie, Victor, Fraser, Stephie
Staff picking Wilkinson:

Jeremy Kennedy vs. Alex Volkanovski

Phil Mackenzie: This is one of the fights where there is an obvious pick, but the actual bout has a good chance of being ragged and fairly close, just because both men have similar styles and core competencies, and thus a good chance of neutralizing one another. Both are aggressive, tireless wrestlers. The grappling may be surprisingly competitive, but as of their most recent fights, Volkanovski is a competent pressure striker and Kennedy is genuinely bad on the feet. Whether he uses his striking to set up takedowns, or tries to run a sprawl’n’brawl game, Volkanovski seems to have the key advantages. Alexander Volkanovski by unanimous decision.

Victor Rodriguez: Even with the height disadvantage, Volkanovski’s strong as an ox and a more dynamic athlete with a decent gas tank. Kennedy’s striking isn’t great, and he can get caught coming in by a guy that hits pretty hard. That’s gonna add up. Alex Volkanovski by decision.

Staff picking Kennedy: Tim
Staff picking Volkanovski: Nick, Harry, Bissell, Phil, Mookie, Dayne, Eddie, Victor, Fraser, Stephie

Jussier Formiga vs. Ben Nguyen

Phil Mackenzie: This is the kind of uphill athletic struggle which Formiga is going to lose one day, and badly. Is that day on Saturday? I’m not sure. Nguyen is a physical force, but his defense everywhere is dependent on him zipping through phases too quickly for opponents to catch him. This is similar to Borg (who beat Formiga), but Nguyen is both more dangerous but more inherently fragile than Borg. If I could be convinced that he was just going to kickbox with Formiga, I’d be more likely to favour him, but even in his upset win over Elliott, he hurt Elliott and then immediately went to the ground with him. Formiga is a sound, functional kickboxer, but his greatest ability has been the one to just stop scrambles cold and lock onto back control to cement a round. If Nguyen gets stuck in positions he tends to get slaughtered. Jussier Formiga by submission, round 2.

Victor Rodriguez: I’m seeing things differently from Phil here. Nguyen has a crafty submisison game, and might end up falling behind with his striking unless he’s consistently faster. He’s still likelier to get figured out by the veteran. Ideally, I’d go with the veteran here, but Nguyen has that wily underdog thing going on with a bit of creativity thrown in. Ben Nguyen by submission.

Staff picking Formiga: Mookie, Dayne, Tim, Phil, Fraser
Staff picking Nguyen: Nick, Harry, Bissell, Eddie, Victor, Stephie

Ross Pearson vs. Mizuto Hirota

Phil Mackenzie: Mildly surprised to see Pearson favoured so strongly given that he’s dropped his last four, but I have to concur. Pretty much anyone who’s beaten Pearson has done so by circling out and luring him onto strikes, and that is not Pugnus at all, who is a bull of a fighter. In head-to-head pocket fights, Pearson’s slipping left hook comes alive, and his takedown defense has hardened up over the years. His waning durability is a concern, but while Hirota is powerful he is not a big hitter. Ross Pearson by unanimous decision.

Victor Rodriguez: Let’s not mince words here, Hirota’s kinda shot. Even with the acknowledgement of that fact, Pearson’s been on a rougher slide and I just can’t trust him after round one. Mizuto Hirota by decision.

Staff picking Pearson: Nick, Harry, Bissell, Mookie, Dayne, Tim, Phil, Eddie, Fraser, Stephie
Staff picking Hirota: Victor

Teruto Ishihara vs. Jose Alberto Quinonez

Phil Mackenzie: Ishihara’s improvement curve has been flat for a while now. Wait around, jump on the first opportunity to land a left hand as hard as possible, then fade out of the fight. Will going down a weight class make that better? Or will it just make him less likely to land clean, and more likely to fade faster? Unless he’s reinvented himself into much more of a top control grappling approach, I don’t see why this works. Quinonez is a weird but coherent striker and determined clinch fighter, who keeps the kind of pace which has always had Ishihara sucking wind. Maybe Ishihara punches right through the jank to wipe him out early, but I don’t really see it. Jose Alberto Quinonez by unanimous decision.

Victor Rodriguez: I want to pick Ishihara because of his wrestling chops, but even with a great stable of training partners he hasn’t been able to make things click like they should have by now. Quinonez can outstrike him and outwork him against the cage, and we know what judges like. Teco Quinonez by decision.

Staff picking Ishihara: Harry, Bissell, Mookie, Tim, Eddie, Fraser
Staff picking Quinonez: Nick, Dayne, Phil, Victor, Stephie

Luke Jumeau vs. Daichi Abe

Phil Mackenzie: These two both had strong performances against fighters which they were likely to look good against in a win. Both are buttoned-up counterstrikers, and against formlessly aggressive fighters like Steele and Lim they were able to land shots and were almost compelled to keep a higher than usual activity level. That doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen here. Abe is (much) less experienced, but he’s a little cleaner on the feet and I trust his takedown defense and overall slightly higher athletic ceiling. Could be slow, and maybe even dependent on if the Aussie crowd shows out for the Kiwi. Daichi Abe by split decision.

Victor Rodriguez: Some of you cats are probably wondering what the hell a Daichi Abe is. I’m not gonna sit here and tell you he’s the future, but he’s a great addition to the division, and had a less-than-stellar outing in his UFC debut. But the guy is capable of some pretty insane violence. Don’t believe me? Here’s a quick thread. Jumeau is better with his range and his grappling is more well-rounded, but Abe’s more capable of delivering consistent damage over three rounds and a better finishing instinct. Daichi Abe by late TKO.

Staff picking Jumeau: Harry, Bissell, Mookie, Dayne, Tim, Eddie, Fraser, Stephie
Staff picking Abe: Nick, Phil, Victor




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