Former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold will look to reclaim 185-pound gold later tonight (Sat., Feb. 10, 2018) at UFC 221 live on pay-per-view (PPV) from inside Perth Arena in Perth, Australia, when he takes on proven contender Yoel Romero.
Romero missed weight for the interim middleweight title fight so he will be unable to claim the belt, but Rockhold remains in play.
This is a huge opportunity for both fighters. Rockhold will have the chance to finally shake off his UFC 199 title loss to Michael Bisping and get back the middleweight strap. Romero, despite not being able to win UFC gold, can still prove that he’s championship worthy with a victory over one of the most complete fighters in the sport today.
In preparation for the monstrous middleweight showdown, we take a closer look at what both Rockhold and Romero need to do in order to walk out of Perth victorious.
1. Win the early grappling exchanges...
As one of the strongest and most athletic fighters at 185 pounds, Rockhold has made a living out of tracking down opponents, dragging them to the canvas, and battering them into oblivion. He did it against Chris Weidman, Michael Bisping, Lyoto Machida, David Branch, and many more.
While Rockhold should still be able to lean on his world-class grappling game at UFC 221 he’s going to be facing his toughest wrestler to date. Romero is Olympic level with his takedowns and takedown defense, so the first few grappling exchanges may very well paint the picture for this fight.
Ronaldo Souza and Weidman remain the only two UFC fighters to ever take “Soldier of God” down, so we’ll see if Rockhold can add his name to that list.
2. Reach and range...
Whether or not Rockhold is able to find success in the clinch and on the ground against Romero, he’s still going to have a massive advantage on the feet. That’s not to say Romero isn’t a solid striker capable of landing devastating blows with his hands, feet, and knees, but Rockhold is a towering middleweight who will possess a four-inch reach advantage come fight time.
Rockhold is one of the best in the division at utilizing his reach to find his range, attack from the outside, and give his opponents limited opportunity to counter. While Rockhold will have to be cautious not to run into a flying knee or fight-ending left hand, he should be able to score in bunches on the stockier Romero.
1. Attack early...
We really don’t know how Romero’s botched weight cut is going to effect his performance at UFC 221, but it’s safe to say the Cuban’s best chance to end Rockhold remains in the first three rounds. After all, Romero has recorded all but one of his UFC finishes within the 11-15 minute mark.
That said, “Soldier of God” mustn’t burn himself out in the process. Romero was able to last all five rounds against Robert Whittaker back at UFC 213, but he wasn’t as dangerous as he usually is when the fight entered the championship rounds. Romero needs to take that title loss as a lesson and use his experience to better pace himself against Rockhold.
Anything else could end in devastating fashion for Romero in the later rounds.
2. Land heavy inside...
Despite his wrestling pedigree and devastating top game, Romero’s quickest route to victory at UFC 221 is to land one of his power shots on Rockhold’s chin. While Rockhold is one of the most durable names in the division, he has recently shown that he’s susceptible to getting rocked.
If Romero is looking to land early and do the most damage he can before Rockhold gets comfortable in his own gameplan, the 40-year-old Cuban will probably have to do his bidding inside. After all, that four-inch reach advantage for Rockhold will be difficult to deal with if Romero tries to pick his shots from distance on the feet.
Instead, “Soldier of God” needs to tuck his chin, close the gap, push Rockhold up against the cage, and launch heavy punches and knees inside to try and deplete the former UFC champion’s gas tank.
Prediction: Rockhold via unanimous decision
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.