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PERTH, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 11: (R-L) Yoel Romero of Cuba celebrates his knockout victory over Luke Rockhold in their interim middleweight title bout during the UFC 221 event at Perth Arena on February 11, 2018 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

UFC 221 might not have been the most anticipated card of the year, but it delivered the goods for those who tuned in. 

If anything, Yoel Romero‘s third-round TKO win over Luke Rockhold was worth the price of admission. Romero didn’t win the interim UFC title because he missed weight before the fight, but he established himself as the biggest threat to Robert Whittaker’s crown regardless.

The fight got off to an inauspicious start. Rockhold maintained his distance while Romero’s bursts were sporadic as he stayed on the outside. 

But when Romero decided to attack, it was violent. The 40-year-old lunged forward a few times during those rounds, but he was usually swinging at air. 

In the third round, he found Rockhold’s chin. After doubling up on the jab, a smashing straight left put Rockhold down, and a followup punch promptly ended the fight. Chamatkar Sandhu of MMA Junkie noted the finish and called for Romero to get the next shot at Whittaker upon his return:

Of course, that was the plan for this fight originally; however, Romero missing weight threw a wrench into things. The interim middleweight championship was only up for grabs for Rockhold. 

However, this was a fight that Romero took on short notice. With just four weeks to prepare, he didn’t have a full fight camp, and that might be taken into consideration. Romero noted in his apology that he hadn’t missed weight before:

The fact that Romero ended the bout in the third round shouldn’t come as a shock. It’s been his favorite round to end fights, as noted by MMA writer Wesley Riddle:

The featured middleweight bout wasn’t the only excitement during the night. It was a card that was marked by exciting finishes and back-and-forth affairs. Here’s a look at the complete results and a closer look at the main card fights. 

Main card 

  • Yoel Romero def. Luke Rockhold via third-round TKO (1:48) 
  • Curtis Blaydes def. Mark Hunt via unanimous decision 
  • Tai Tuivasa def. Cyril Asker via first-round TKO (2:18) 
  • Jake Matthews def. Li Jingliang via unanimous decision 
  • Tyson Pedro def. Saparbek Safarov via first-round submission (kimura, 3:54) 

Undercard

  • Dong Hyun Kim def. Damian Brown via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
  • Israel Adesanya def. Rob Wilkinson via second-round TKO (3:37)
  • Alexander Volkanovski def. Jeremy Kennedy via second-round TKO (4:57)
  • Jussier Formiga def. Ben Nguyen via third-round submission (rear-naked choke, 1:43)
  • Ross Pearson def. Mizuto Hirota via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
  • Jose Quinonez def. Teruto Ishihara via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
  • Luke Jumeau def. Daichi Abe via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-27, 28-27)

Mark Hunt vs. Curtis Blaydes

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 11: (L-R) Curtis Blaydes punches Mark Hunt of New Zealand in their heavyweight bout during the UFC 221 event at Perth Arena on February 11, 2018 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

One result the crowd in Australia didn’t like was Curtis Blaydes’ unanimous-decision win over Mark Hunt. 

The matchup came down to Blaydes wrestling against Hunt’s explosive striking technique and power. Blaydes felt that early on as the Super Samoan connected and nearly put the fight away:

But Blaydes’ toughness and chin aren’t to be underestimated. While Hunt was going for the finish, Blaydes secured a takedown and rode out the rest of the round. 

As the fight persisted, the takedowns went from a tool for survival to an actual offense that would help him win the fight. One takedown in particular made the highlight reel for the former NJCAA national champion wrestler:

Blaydes came into the bout ranked No. 9 overall. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him jump all the way up into the rop five after a win over someone of Hunt’s caliber. 

Tai Tuivasa vs. Cyril Asker

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 11: (L-R) Tai Tuivasa of Australia celebrates his victory over Cyril Asker of France in their heavyweight bout during the UFC 221 event at Perth Arena on February 11, 2018 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/

Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Coming into the bout with a 6-0 record that featured six first-round finishes, Tai Tuivasa promised violence. 

He delivered. 

For the few minutes the fight lasted, “Bam Bam” turned Cyril Asker’s face into the canvas. Tuivasa came charging early and often attacking with hooks, elbows and body shots that left his opponent stumbling around the cage. 

The UFC passed along some of the destruction:

Much like Tyson Pedro’s fight, this was a setup for an Australian prospect to put on a strong performance in front of a home crowd.  

Tuivasa didn’t disappoint, and it’s likely going to open bigger doors soon. 

In a division as shallow as heavyweight, a 24-year-old with a 7-0 record and seven first-round finishes is likely to get fast-tracked. 

Jake Matthews vs. Li Jingliang

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 11: (R-L) Jake Matthews of Australia punches Li Jingliang of China in their welterweight bout during the UFC 221 event at Perth Arena on February 11, 2018 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Get

Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

The Australian crowd was happy to see Aussie welterweight Jake Matthews’ hand raised via unanimous decision against Li Jingliang. 

It wasn’t without controversy, though. 

Matthews arguably should have won the fight via a guillotine choke. The 23-year-old had the submission locked in, but Li Jiangliang created some separation with some blatant eye-gouging, and MMA Twitter was not happy about it:

Controversy aside, Matthews put on a full display of both his striking and submission skills and had his hand raised anyway. It’s a strong win for a fighter who seems like he’s been fighting for 10 years because he already has eight UFC bouts this early in his career. 

His experience is starting to show, and performances that well-rounded against a fighter of Jingliang’s caliber is a good sign of things to come. 

Tyson Pedro vs. Saparbek Safarov

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 11: (R-L) Tyson Pedro of Australia punches Saparbek Safarov of Russia in their light heavyweight bout during the UFC 221 event at Perth Arena on February 11, 2018 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC

Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Tyson Pedro’s skills go farther than chokes. The Aussie light heavyweight has made a habit of choking opponents out, but this time around he put an aggressive opponent in Saparbek Safarov to rest with a kimura. 

The UFC passed along the slick submission:

It’s a big win for Pedro, who remains one of the more intriguing prospects in the 205-pound division but just suffered his first loss to Ilir Latifi last time out. 

Safarov felt like a sacrificial lamb for the hometown fighter in this spot. His only other UFC fight was against another hometown fighter, Gian Villante, in New York. 

Still, there’s something to be said for a prospect crushing it when they have the opportunity to show what they can do. 

Pedro’s stock is still high after this finish.    

Bleacher Report – Front Page

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Yoel Romero Remains One of the UFC's Scariest Ever with Brutal KO over Rockhold

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