The UFC is heading to Australia this Saturday for the UFC 221 PPV card headlined by an interim middleweight title fight between Luke Rockhold and Yoel Romero. Hometown hero and current middleweight champ was supposed to battle Rockhold for the undisputed belt, but unfortunately a variety of serious injuries sidelined the champ, so instead Romero is getting his second crack at the interim belt after losing to Whittaker back in July.
Overall this is not a stacked PPV card, but instead looks more like a Fight Night card tailored to the Australian market with a hometown fighter in 8 of the 12 fights (would have been 9 with Whittaker). That said, there is still a few betting opportunities, especially on the main card. I have 3 plays below and I will be using the best odds from any of our top Canadian sportsbooks for my picks.
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Luke Rockhold vs Yoel Romero
Romero actually opened as the favourite in this fight with odds of 1.50. The fight was bet down to a pick’em over the next few days and now we see Rockhold as a fairly significant favourite. That is a huge swing in the line, which often indicates that smart money has come in on Rockhold to push his odds down.
I too like Rockhold in this fight. Yes, he got cocky and paid the price against Bisping, and then seemed to withdraw a bit from the UFC, not fighting again until his fight with David Branch last September. In that fight he did look rusty as well, losing the first round before gaining control of Branch on the mat and finishing him in round 2. Looking at these two fights it’s no wonder that Rockhold opened up as an underdog. That said, at his best Rockhold should be a significant favourite over Romero and based on his recent training regiment and overall demeanor I expect to see the best Rockhold in this fight.
Rockhold should be the more technical striker on the feet, the better MMA grappler on the mat (not wrestler) and also have the better gas tank.
Romero is a beast, but I think he’s often overrated. He gassed against Whittaker in their last fight, losing the final 3 rounds against an injured opponent. Even on his win streak he was getting a little bit lucky. He was likely losing the Weidman fight before getting the flying knee knockout on an ill timed takedown attempt from Weidman. Most people think he lost his split decision fight with Jacare, and even back to 2014 the Tim Kennedy win where he wouldn’t leave the stool on time has a huge asterisk for me.
In my opinion Rockhold vs Whittaker will truly be a fight between the best two middleweights on the planet. Luke just has to get past a dangerous Romero to set that matchup, but I believe he will.
Play: Rockhold 1.71
Curtis Blaydes vs Mark Hunt
Blaydes is one of the top prospects in the heavyweight division and this fight should raise his stock if he can pull off the dominant performance that I expect.
Blaydes is on a 4 fight win streak after losing to Francis Ngannou in his UFC debut. Even in that fight with Ngannou, Blaydes looked solid getting Ngannou down a couple times and going a full 2 rounds against one of the most dangerous guys on the planet. After that loss he stormed through Cody East and Adam Milstead before going for a more technical striking approach against Daniel Omielanczuk. Even though he got the unanimous 30-27 win in that fight the hype was lost a bit because he didn’t get a ton of takedowns and a finish. That said, he still won easily and was able to get some standup exchanges in before getting back to a dominant second round finish of Aleksei Oleinik in his most recent fight.
I actually think Blaydes has all of the tools to be a top 5 fighter at heavyweight and possibly even a future champ.
In this fight, Blaydes should have no trouble getting Hunt to the ground and dominating in top position. Blaydes should use the same strategy that Miocic and Lesnar both did to avoid the big punch from Hunt and control him on the mat.
If Blaydes avoid getting one punch KO’d he should win this fight fairly easily.
Play: Blaydes 1.62
Saparbek Safarov vs Tyson Pedro
Pedro is another guy who I think has a bright future in the UFC. His hype train was stifled a little bit when he was outwrestled by Ilir Latifi in his last fight, but Pedro is still one of the most athletic guys at light heavyweight and this fight with Safarov seems to be a layup provided by the UFC to get him back in the win column in front of his home fans.
Safarov only has one UFC fight under his belt and it was a KO loss to Gian Villante, who is simply just not very good.
Pedro is a big favourite here, but rightfully so. I expect a dominant performance.
Play: Pedro 1.36