Another weekend, another show. We’ve got 3 of MMANews’ finest here to bring you our predictions for Saturday night’s UFC 221: Romero vs. Rockhold pay-per-view from Perth Arena. Fans in attendance at the Perth Arena are in for a unique experience, as the preliminary fights kick off at 7am local time.

It was a long and winding road to UFC 221, with the main event undergoing several transformations before we landed on Interim Middleweight Championship bout. What was initially shaping up to be a Middleweight championship unification bout between Georges St. Pierre and Robert Whittaker fell apart when GSP announced in December that he’s battling ulcerative colitis, which has sidelined him indefinitely. Luke Rockhold was named as a replacement for GSP, but that was not the final twist in the road. Last month, news broke that Whittaker contracted a staph infection and would be out until mid-2018. Enter “Soldier of God” Yoel Romero and we’ve finally got a main event.

The UFC 221 main fight card features:

  • Tyson Pedro vs. Saparbek Safarov (Light Heavyweight)
  • Jake Matthews vs. Li Jingliang (Welterweight)
  • Tai Tuivasa vs. Cyril Asker (Heavyweight)
  • Mark Hunt vs. Curtis Blaydes (Heavyweight)
  • Yoel Romero vs. Luke Rockhold (Interim Middleweight Championship)

Matt Boone, Fernando Quiles Jr. and Ian Carey will be giving their picks for this installment of our Staff Predictions ’roundtable.’ Without further ado, please enjoy our ..

UFC 221: Romero vs. Rockhold Staff Predictions

Tyson Pedro (6-1) vs. Saparbek Safarov (8-1)

Matt: Who versus huh kicks things off on the pay-per-view card in Perth this weekend, otherwise known as Tyson Pedro vs. Saparbek Safarov. Pedro lost to the highly-respected Ilir Latifi at UFC 215 last September, but other than that he’s a perfect 2-0 in the UFC and undefeated outside the UFC. I think he’ll return to his winning ways against Safarov. It’s worth noting that Safarov is also undefeated outside of the UFC and is coming into the fight off of his only career defeat against respected veteran Gian Villante at UFC Fight Night 102 back in December of 2016. (Prediction: Tyson Pedro)

Fernando: Tyson Pedro is coming off the first loss of his career. Before, Pedro had success taking guys down and pounding on them until they gave up their back for a rear-naked choke. He’s facing Safarov, who was finished by Gian Villante in the second round. I think Pedro is the more technically sound fighter. If he has trouble on the feet, he will take his opponent down. I see another submission win for Pedro. (Prediction: Tyson Pedro)

Ian: Until Tyson Pedro ran into the wrestling of Ilir Latifi, nobody had made it out of the first round with him. Safarov is a wild fighter who has never gone to a 3rd round let alone a decision. Pedro via 1st round KO seems the most likely result here. (Prediction: Tyson Pedro)

Consensus: Pedro

Jake Matthews (11-3) vs. Li Jingliang (14-4)

Matt: This is one of the tougher fights on the card to predict. Jake Matthews comes into the fight with a 1-2 record in his last three Octagon appearances, however one loss was to the highly-regarded Kevin Lee, while the other was a split decision loss against Andrew Holbrook. Li Jingliang is riding a four fight win streak and is favored by the odds makers slightly at -150. I agree he’s the favorite on paper, but I could easily go either way with this one. I’ll flip a coin and go with Jingliang. (Prediction: Li Jingliang)

Fernando: It’s hard to believe that Jake Matthews is only 23 years old. With a record of 11-3 and bouts against Kevin Lee and James Vick, Matthews has done a lot for someone as young as he is. To win two in a row, he’ll have to stop the four-fight winning streak of Jingliang. It’s easier said than done as Jingliang has proven that he can handle the pressure of fighing outside of Asia. Ultimately, I think the hometown crowd will help give Matthews that added boost to pull off a submission victory. (Prediction: Jake Matthews)

Ian: Matthews looked tentative when he fought Bojan Veličković in November. He said after the fight he was testing the water a bit and seeing how he felt at welterweight. There won’t be anytime for him to dip his toe in the water against Jingliang, though, he will bring the fight right to him. Jingliang taking a decision by being the busier fighter seems a likely result here. (Prediction: Li Jingliang)

Consensus: Jingliang

Tai Tuivasa (6-0) vs. Cyril Asker (9-3)

Matt: This is a coming out party for Tai Tuivasa, who comes into this fight with a perfect 6-0 pro MMA record — with all victories coming by way of KO or TKO. The odds makers have it in his favor by a near three-to-one margin. I’ve got to go with Tuivasa in this one. (Prediction: Tai Tuivasa)

Fernando: Fight fans are hoping that Tai Tuivasa becomes the second coming of Mark Hunt. With six finishes to go with his perfect 6-0 record, he may be on to something. A bout with Asker is a nice little bump up in competition. It’s the perfect match-up for Tuivasa at this stage in his young career and I think he gets another finish. (Prediction Tai Tuivasa)

Ian: Nobody has made it to a 2nd round with Tuivasa and there is little evidence to believe Cyril Asker will be the first. Tuivasa is 6-0 having KO’ed all 6 opponents. Asker, on the other hand, has been knocked out in the 1st round twice in his last 4 fights. It seems likely Tuivasa makes it seven 1st round knockouts in a row here. (Prediction Tai Tuivasa)

Consensus: Tuivasa

Mark Hunt (13-11-1) vs. Curtis Blaydes (8-1)

Matt: This is the co-main event and the only other fight with any legitimate star-power “name value” on the pay-per-view card. Yup, it’s one of “those” type of PPVs, folks. Having said that, Hunt will probably have great crowd support from the Australian fans, making for an exciting fight atmosphere. Because of his “anything can happen in the blink of an eye” style, that only multiplies. The odds makers have Blaydes a favorite due to his wrestling, and I tend to agree. Hunt could always add to his “walk away KO” list with a big shot early, but the later it goes, the more I’d have to favor the up-and-comer. (Prediction: Curtis Blaydes)

Fernando: I’m surprised that Curtis Blaydes is the favorite in this fight. While he is younger and has a promising 8-1, 1 NC record, he hasn’t even come close to facing the competition that Hunt has. Hunt’s bout against Derrick Lewis proved that the 43-year-old still has some fight left in him. I think he finishes Blaydes via TKO. (Prediction: Mark Hunt)

Ian: Logic says the younger wrestler will fight smart and take the veteran kickboxer to the ground and control him for the duration of the bout. On the other hand, Mark Hunt is Mark Hunt. So there is that to consider as well. Hunt via KO round 3. (Prediction: Mark Hunt)

Consensus: Hunt

Yoel Romero (12-2) vs. Luke Rockhold (16-3)

Matt: For all that is being said about the card as a whole, this is an absolutely excellent main event. On paper, it’s an extremely tough fight to call. Coming into the fight, Rockhold is 4-1 in his last five outings, with the lone defeat coming by upset knockout to Michael Bisping in June of 2016. He had a rough moment in the David Branch fight in his last outing, but ultimately got the job done and by way of finish, no less. For his part, Romero is 4-1 in his last five as well, with his last fight being the lone defeat. Losing by decision to Robert Whitaker isn’t that glaring a blemish, especially when padded with victories over the likes of Chris Weidman, Jacare Souza, Lyoto Machida and Tim Kennedy in the other bouts. The odds makers have this one close, with Rockhold a slight favorite at -150 to +130 for Romero. If I’m betting money, I’d put it on Romero based on the odds, but if I’m making a straight pick, I’d have to go with Rockhold by a very, very slight margin. (Prediction: Luke Rockhold)

Fernando: This is truly a bout between two of the best middleweights not named Robert Whittaker. I would agree with those who say Rockhold is the better athlete and has more tools to win in this fight than his opponent. There are two issue Rockhold faces. The first one is he isn’t likely to have his way with Romero on the ground as the “Soldier of God” is a former Olympic wrestler. The second and biggest issue Rockhold faces is his hands being far too low. It cost him against Michael Bisping and it almost cost him against David Branch. A clean shot from Romero will almost certainly end the fight. I think that’s exactly what will happen. (Prediction: Yoel Romero)

Ian: The last time Luke Rockhold fought a replacement opponent on a few weeks notice he lost the UFC middleweight championship to Michael Bisping. The division hasn’t recovered yet but Rockhold probably has. It’s likely he has learned from the experience.

I think Rockhold should be able to keep Romero’s superhuman wrestling at bay. Whittaker stuffed 14 of Romero’s 18 takedown attempts proving it can be done. Rockhold’s grappling is unreal and he has trained with some of the best wrestlers in MMA for years so he’s not going to be dominated that way.

Romero’s explosive striking might actually be a greater threat than his wrestling in this fight. So long as Rockhold can avoid taking a flying knee to the head, however, I like him winning this. I expect Rockhold to be cautious early and then put on the pressure late when his opponent is tired. Rockhold via submission in round 5. (Prediction: Luke Rockhold)

Consensus: Rockhold

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