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UFC 221: Fight by Fight

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 07: (L-R) <a href='../fighter/Yoel-Romero'>Yoel Romero</a> of Cuba and <a href='../fighter/Luke-Rockhold'>Luke Rockhold</a> face off during the UFC 221 Press Conference at Perth Arena on February 7, 2018 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
YOEL ROMERO VS LUKE ROCKHOLD
Robert Whittaker vs Luke Rockhold was a great main event for UFC 221, but I’m even more intrigued by the replacement fight between Rockhold and Yoel Romero. Simply put, it’s fire vs ice, with the explosive Romero battling the always cool Rockhold, and on paper, cool should prevail, but the former Olympic silver medalist is a supreme athlete who is always just one punch, kick or knee from a definitive finish. Whether it goes five minutes or five rounds, this one is compelling viewing.

MARK HUNT VS CURTIS BLAYDES
I know Curtis Blaydes isn’t Mark Hunt stylistically, but when it comes to fighting spirit and engaging in those fights where the blood, sweat and spit are flying from start to finish, Chicago’s Blaydes has that in his chest. That means one of two things. Blaydes will get drawn into a brawl with “The Super Samoan” and eat one of Hunt’s bombs, or he will use his wrestling and striking to mix things up and take Hunt into deep water. If he chooses the latter strategy, it could be a star-making turn for Blaydes.


TAI TUIVASA VS CYRIL ASKER
I really don’t want to put this tag on up and comer Tai Tuivasa, but it’s hard not to look at his power and attitude and think of him as the Next Gen version of Mark Hunt. He’s got an affable, no nonsense personality, he hits like a truck and he’s doing so in combat sports’ glamour division. If Cyril Asker takes him out of the first round, things could get interesting, but the odds are on “Bam Bam” banging his way to victory once more.

JAKE MATTHEWS VS LI JINGLIANG
One of the most interesting matchups on this weekend’s card pits Jake Matthews against Li Jingliang. Matthews was seen as the next big thing out of Australia, but some rough moments at lightweight quieted that talk for a bit. Now back at welterweight, the buzz is starting up again, and if he gets past Li, it will get louder. But Li has quietly put together a four-fight winning streak with three knockouts, and he’s looking sharper with each outing. If he keeps it standing, he may very well silence the pro-Matthews crowd in Perth.

TYSON PEDRO VS SAPARBEG SAFAROV
Speaking of the next big thing out of Australia, Tyson Pedro got the same tag recently, and while he lost his most recent bout to veteran Ilir Latifi, this light heavyweight’s upside is still high, and he’s got a favorable matchup this weekend with Saparbeg Safarov. Safarov is aggressive, shows up to fight, and can get drawn into a brawl, making him the perfect foil for Pedro if the Aussie can stay calm and use his opponent’s aggressiveness against him.

DAMIEN BROWN VS DONG HYUN KIM
Get out your Fight of the Night picks and make sure this one is listed prominently. Brown and Kim are old-school warriors that always give fans their money’s worth. This weekend should be no different.
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ROB WILKINSON VS ISRAEL ADESANYA
I was really excited about Muslim Salikhov’s UFC debut. Then the dynamic striker got taken down and submitted by Alex Garcia. So I’m holding in my excitement a bit about the Octagon debut of Israel Adesanya. He’s got the same striking attack, the kind that can drop your jaw and turn non-fans into fans. But he’s got to stay upright to pull it off against Rob Wilkinson. In talking to the “Last Stylebender,” he says he’s ready for everything and able to get up from takedowns, and if he can, oh boy, this should be fun.

ALEXANDER VOLKANOVSKI VS JEREMY KENNEDY
Great matchmaking here with two featherweight up and comers squaring off. Volkanovski and Kennedy are both unbeaten in the UFC, but there’s a distinct impression that we haven’t seen their best yet. This weekend there’s no better stage to show off that best version of themselves. If that’s the result, it’s going to be a fun fight.

SAITAMA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 22: (R-L) <a href='../fighter/jussier-formiga'>Jussier Formiga</a> of Brazil celebrates his submission victory over <a href='../fighter/Yuta-Sasaki'>Ulka Sasaki</a> of Japan in their featherweight bout during the <a href='../event/UFC-Silva-vs-Irvin'>UFC Fight Night </a>event inside the Saitama Super Arena on September 22, 2017 in Saitama, Japan. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)JUSSIER FORMIGA VS BEN NGUYEN
Not to get too dramatic here, but this may be the most important fight of Jussier Formiga’s career. Always on the verge of big things and always in the top 10, Formiga hasn’t been able to win that big one that will put him in the title fight conversation, and if he doesn’t get it done this weekend against rising star Ben Nguyen, the road back will be a long one.

ROSS PEARSON VS MIZUTO HIROTA
Ross Pearson has had a tough go of it in recent fights, and it won’t get any easier against always tough Mizuto Hirota. But while Hirota is always steady, Pearson’s ability to rise to the occasion when his back is against the wall may be the difference here, and with four consecutive losses, this is as much of a must win for “The Real Deal” that you will see in this game.

TERUTO ISHIHARA VS JOSE QUINONEZ
Moving back down to bantamweight, Teruto Ishihara’s power should serve him well at 135 pounds, and if he can keep things on the feet, that should make things even nicer for “Yashabo” in a tough weight class where he will be tested immediately by Mexico’s Quinonez.

LUKE JUMEAU VS DAICHI ABE
Daichi Abe shouldn’t be this good with just six pro fights, but in beating Hyun Gyu Lim in September, he showed talent, poise and potential, and he’ll get another chance to display it against veteran Luke Jumeau, who wants to break past the .500 mark in the Octagon.

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