Prior to each UFC fight card, Jay Primetown takes a look at some of the key contests at each event. In the latest installment, we look at the main event of UFC 221 as former middleweight champion Luke Rockhold takes on Yoel Romero for the interim middleweight championship.
Luke Rockhold (Record: 16-3, -140 Favorite, Power Ranking: A)
The UFC middleweight enters the UFC 221 main event looking to regain the middleweight championship. In Rockhold’s last outing, he was able to get David Branch to the mat and dominate him on the ground to win by submission.
Rockhold is the prototype of the new age of fighter in MMA. At 6’3” and a 77 inch reach, he’s built perfectly for the middleweight division. Rockhold combines his physical gifts with being an all-around athlete with great footwork. Rockhold is very reminiscent of Jon Jones in regards to not having the biggest punching power in the division, but has pretty much all the other tools to beat opponents. The area in which Rockhold stands out on the feet is his kicking game. The California born and raised former champion has an awesome array of kicks which he is able to land from range. It’s his kicking arsenal that allows him to setup the grappling and his work against the cage. Like most fighters at American Kickboxing Academy, he has a very good work ethic and fights at a high pace. Rockhold lands 4.34 significant strikes per minute while only absorbing 2.17 strikes; a fantastic difference of 2.17 strikes per minute. As good as Rockhold is on the feet, he’s even better on the ground. He holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and has shown a lot of variety in his submission setups and attempts. Of his 16 career wins, ten of them have come by submission. Rockhold’s top game is as good as anyone currently in MMA. He controls opponents extremely well and is duel versed in striking and submission ability from that position. Defensively, he’s vulnerable on the feet to strikers. All three of his losses have been by knockout and he’s become more vulnerable in prolonged striking exchanges as his career has gone on.
Yoel Romero (Record: 12-2, +130 Underdog, Power Ranking: A)
The former Olympic silver medalist in freestyle enters his second straight UFC title bout. In his last outing, he dropped a decision to Robert Whittaker. With Whittaker sidelined, Romero got the call to be in the interim title fight.
Yoel Romero is one of the best athletes to compete in the UFC. His wrestling accolades speak for themselves, but even more so at 40 years of age, the type of athleticism he possesses in the Octagon is truly inspiring. Romero utilizes quick bursts of energy to attack his opponent. Whether it is a punching combination or a flying knee, it’s typically done in quick actions. He’s not a fighter that tends to have sustained output on the feet as noted by his 2.99 significant strikes per minute, but when he does come forward he’s extremely dangerous. When Romero does land and is able to hurt an opponent, he’s got a great sense of going for it and working for a finish. Romero’s submission game is limited, but he’s rarely in a position where he has to do much defensive grappling. Romero’s endurance is definitely his biggest vulnerability. Despite winning the first two rounds against Robert Whittaker, he slowed down tremendously in the third round and even more so in the championship rounds. Romero is a fighter that needs to finish in championship fights. His lack of endurance makes it very difficult for him to win decisions over five rounds.
In what is a fantastic middleweight contest, Luke Rockhold and Yoel Romero square off for the interim championship at UFC 221. For Rockhold, it is an opportunity to become champion of the division for a second time. While for Romero, it’s the last opportunity for the 40 year old to earn UFC gold. Physically, there is a major size advantage for Rockhold in this bout as he has a three inch height and four inch reach advantage. It is pivotal early in this bout for Rockhold to maintain distance. Romero is most dangerous in the first two rounds in this fight. He will be looking for any vulnerability from Rockhold to pounce and find a finish. Romero is certainly capable of catching the former champion and finding a finish. However, what is more likely is that Rockhold survives the early storm. Once Romero begins to slow down, he’s vulnerable to being taken to the mat as well. In top position, Rockhold is as lethal as anyone in MMA. He can finish with strikes or sync in a submission. Either way, a tired Romero will not have an answer from this position. Look for Rockhold to take control late in the fight and take it to his tired opponent to earn a late stoppage and reclaim the UFC Middleweight Championship. At time of publication, Rockhold is a -140 favorite. Props have not been released for this bout yet, but inside the distance is the preferred angle once lines become available.