Yoel Romero was unmistakably the story of the night at UFC221. Having missed weight by more than three pounds, there were doubts his headline fight against Rockhold would even take place, as tense talks between management teams were held late into the afternoon before the bout.
The fight went ahead and despite the drama at the weigh in, and Romero was able to win by TKO in the third round.
While the main event was missing Australia’s Robert Whittaker, in what would have been his first title defence and on home soil no less, and was marred by the weight fiasco with Romero resulting in him being unable to win the title, his performance was that of a champion.
He showed no signs of fatigue in the first two rounds as Rockhold pushed the pace and showcased some of the flashy techniques he has become synonymous with. Rockhold managed to land a series of brutal leg kicks that led to Romero having to be carried from the arena post-fight, and looked certain to affect him in the later rounds.
However, he Cuban was able to apply the pressure in the third round, knocking Rockhold to the canvas and finishing him with a brutal left as he tried to get up from the floor.
The performance was as impressive as any of Romero’s other wins and, despite missing weight, albeit as a last minute stand-in for the injured champ, Robert Whittaker, it looks almost certain that he’ll get the next shot at the Middleweight crown.
But the success of Romero, paled in comparison to that of the real winner on the night – the city of Perth.
The event was a virtual sell-out, with a gate of more than $3m, which smashed the record for any event at the Perth Arena. Of the 12k plus in attendance, 4-5k had travelled interstate or internationally to the event, with UFC221 overall injecting millions of dollars into the Perth economy. UFC brass after the fight, said that they were almost certain to return to the city in the near future.
The crowd lapped up the action and supported the Aussies and the Kiwi’s on the card through their wins and losses. They cheered and chanted, making jokes in the intervals that were sometimes funny and sometimes crass – but typically Australian. The event trended on Twitter, with some asking if there had been a crowd track applied to coverage, as viewers around the world could not believe the noise of the crowd – that’s just Australian sporting fans for you.
In return for their support, the spectators were treated to a stellar event that saw many of the Australians and Kiwis come out on top.
Tyson Pedro led the charge with a stunning win over Saparbek Safarov, ripping a kimura out of nowhere to secure an early submission victory.
This was followed by Jake Matthews putting on a performance that would earn him Fight of the Night bonus honours against Li Jingaliang. Not only was it one of his most impressive performances to date, he even managed to survive a nasty eye gouge that is currently doing the rounds on the Internet as a meme.
One of the most impressive wins of the night came from Tai Tuivasa who remains undefeated in his brutal defeat of Cyril Asker. Tuivasa put on a striking master class as he brutalised his opponent from the very beginning, To his credit, Asker showed he has a hell of a chin and managed to withstand the onslaught initially, only to succumb late in the first round.
The win has elevated Tuivasa straight into the top 15 for the heavyweight division. If 2018 continues in the same guise, he could easily become the first Australian Heavyweight Champion in a division that lacks depth but not opportunity for young starlets like Tuivasa.
Full rundown of the fights below:
Luke Rockhold vs. Yoel Romero — Romero def. Rockhold by KO (punches) at 1:48 of Round Three
Mark Hunt vs. Curtis Blaydes — Blaydes def. Hunt by unanimous decision (30-26 x2, 29-27)
Cyril Asker vs. Tai Tuivasa — Tuivasa def. Asker by TKO (punches and elbows) at 2:18 of Round One
Li Jingliang vs. Jake Matthews — Matthews def. Li by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-26 x2)
Tyson Pedro vs. Saparbek Safarov — Pedro def. Safarov by submission (kimura) at 3:54 of Round One
Damien Brown vs. Dong Hyun Kim — Kim def. Brown by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Israel Adesanya vs. Rob Wilkinson — Adesanya def. Wilkinson by TKO (punches) at 3:37 of Round Two
Jeremy Kennedy vs. Alex Volkanovski — Volkanovski def. Kennedy by TKO (punches) at 4:57 of Round Two
Jussier Formiga vs. Ben Nguyen — Formiga def. Nguyen by technical submission (rear naked choke) at 1:43 of Round Three
Mizuto Hirota vs. Ross Pearson — Pearson def. Hirota by unanimous decision (30-27 x2, 29-28)
Teruto Ishihara vs. Jose Quinonez — Quinonez def. Ishihara by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Daichi Abe vs. Luke Jumeau — Jumeau def. Abe by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-27, 28-27)