Perth, Australia, won’t get to see local favorite Robert Whittaker defend his Middleweight title, but they still get to see a world-class match as Yoel Romero steps up to face Luke Rockhold in the pay-per-view (PPV) main event of UFC 221 this weekend (Sat., Feb. 10, 2018) inside Perth Arena.
Earlier in the evening, Oceanic knockout artists Mark Hunt and Tai Tuivasa take on Curtis Blaydes and Cyril Asker, respectively, and Jake Matthews attempts to reassert his status as a top mixed martial arts (MMA) prospect at the expense of Chinese slugger Li Jingliang.
Four FOX Sports 1 “Prelims” undercard bouts will set the stage before we get to the paid content (check out the Fight Pass portion here), though, so let’s have a look:
155 lbs.: Damien Brown vs. Dong Hyun Kim
Damien Brown (17-11) made his fellow Aussies proud at UFC Fight Night 101, surviving early adversity to edge Jon Tuck by split decision. “Beatdown” wasn’t quite as successful seven months later in Auckland, however, suffering a one-punch knockout loss to Vinc Pichel. The good news for his is that he rebounded well, taking Frank Camacho to a “Fight of the Night” split decision in Nov. 2017.
He’s stopped eight opponents via submission, six by form of choke.
Dong Hyun Kim (15-8-3) — best known for his insane war with Polo Reyes at UFC 199 — has dialed back his brawling a bit to secure two consecutive UFC victories. After a grappling-heavy victory over Brendan O’Reilly, he took on the smoldering husk of Takanori Gomi in Saitama and knocked him silly in just 90 seconds.
He will have an inch of height and two inches of reach on Brown.
Before anything else, please go to UFC.com and look at Kim’s haircut. Back? Alright, let’s get into it.
This just seems like a rough style match up for Brown. Kim looks to be the stronger grappler and showed that he knows how to scrap against Reyes, surviving the Mexican bruiser’s best shots for more than two rounds before finally succumbing. Brown is going to have to out-technique him, for which he doesn’t appear to have the toolbox.
If Kim does go full zombie again, it could come back to bite him, but he’s shown a willingness to actually fight smart recently. He mixes up straight punches and takedowns for a comfortable victory.
Prediction: Kim via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Rob Wilkinson vs. Israel Adesanya
Rob Wilkinson (11-1) earned (and defended) the Australian FC Middleweight title before answering UFC’s call in Nov. 2017. Stepping up on short notice for Abu Azaitar, Wilkinson took on the returning Siyar Bahadurzada and succumbed to the Afghan’s power partway through the second round.
He has submitted six professional opponents ... all in the first round.
Israel Adesanya (11-0) — currently ranked the No. 5 middleweight kickboxer on the planet by LiverKick.com — put together a 65-5-2 record in the discipline despite splitting his time with MMA since 2012. His time in our sport of choice has seen him stop all 11 of his opponents, including Kenan Song and Melvin Guillard, with strikes in less than two rounds apiece.
He stands one inch taller than Wilkinson at 6’4.”
Fans should be as excited about Adesanya’s debut as they were about Gokhan Saki’s. Adesanya may not have quite the list of accomplishments “The Rebel” does, but unlike the Turkish slugger, he’s in his athletic prime at 28. It also helps that he’s a joy to watch, packing the sort of fluid and destructive attack his nickname suggests.
Wilkinson is a fairly solid wrestler, which is worth keeping an eye on after another striking prodigy in Muslim Salikhov got wrecked on the mat, but Adesanya’s got good hips and a knack for throws in the clinch. After the way Wilkinson struggled to manhandle a blown-up Welterweight in Bahadurzada, I don’t see him shutting down Izzy. Adesanya wears him down at range before polishing him off once he’s good and tired.
Prediction: Adesanya via second-round technical knockout
145 lbs.: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Jeremy Kennedy
Despite standing a mere 5’6,” Alexander Volkanovski (16-1) has emerged as a Featherweight prospect worth watching during his three-fight Octagon tenure. The former Australian FC champ brutalized both Yusuke Kasuya and Mizuto Hirota before outclassing New Zealand’s Shane Young on UFC’s last venture to “The Land Down Under.”
Nine of his 12 professional finishes have come by form of knockout.
Jeremy Kennedy (11-0) — who has had fights with the likes of Josh Emmett and Mirsad Bektic fall through — has used dominant wrestling to put together a three-fight win streak in the competitive Featherweight division. His victims include inaugural The Ultimate Fighter: “Brazil” winner Rony “Jason” and Kyle Bochniak, who was last seen beating prospect Brandon Davis.
“JBC” stands five inches taller than Volkanovski, though their respected reaches are identical.
Though Volkanovski is still a little too over-reliant on the overhand right, his wrestling technique, bottomless gas tank, and sheer power are enough to make him a massive handful. Even better, Kennedy doesn’t have the style to exploit Volkanovski’s lingering issues. He’s at home in the clinch and relentlessly pursuing takedowns, which plays right into Volkanovski’s sledgehammer hands.
Volkanovski’s strength gives him the edge inside and Kennedy’s usual gameplan puts him well within that overhand right’s limited range. Unless Kennedy has a jab and commensurate distance striking game to go along with it, the local boy overpowers him in the pocket for either a grinding-heavy decision or late stoppage via strikes.
Prediction: Volkanovski via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Jussier Formiga vs. Ben Nguyen
It’s been more than eight years since Jussier Formiga (20-5) beat Shinichi Kojima to become the world’s top Flyweight, but he’s certainly done well for himself in UFC. After a rough 1-2 start that featured losses to John Dodson and Joseph Benavidez, the Brazilian won five of his next seven bouts, most recently choking out “Ulka” Sasaki in Japan.
He has two inches of reach on ‘Ben 10.”
Ben Nguyen (17-6) went from viral sensation to legitimate contender in just five UFC fights, losing only to Louis Smolka in a barnburner during that span. His latest win was his biggest to date, a 49-second submission of Tim Elliott that earned him “Performance of the Night” honors.
He has knocked out nine opponents and submitted another five.
For my money, Formiga has the best back takes and back control since a prime B.J. Penn. He excels at exploiting any tiny opportunity he’s given and is an absolute leech once he gets his hooks in. He’s held his own on the mat against the likes of Wilson Reis and Ray Borg and has a significantly better body of work against world-class Flyweight fighters.
I just can’t pick against Nguyen, though. “Ben 10” might be the biggest puncher in the division and has shown much, much improved scrambling and takedown defense since that donnybrook against Smolka. He’s young, explosive and packs more than enough heat to crack Formiga’s jaw. Though another Formiga victory through positional brilliance is possible, my gut says Nguyen scores his biggest scalp to date.
Prediction: Nguyen via first-round technical knockout
If nothing else, Romero vs. Rockhold is some A++ matchmaking — can’t wait! See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 221 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.