UFC 221: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Predictions

Nathan McCarter@McCarterNFeatured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2018

UFC 221: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Predictions

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    UFC 221 at Perth Arena in Perth, Australia, has had a shift in main event, but fans are still being treated to an elite middleweight affair on Saturday, February 10.

    Yoel Romero stepped in to replace an injured Robert Whittaker against Luke Rockhold, and now an interim title is introduced once again. Romero's dynamic skills will be tested against one of the most well-rounded talents in the sport today.

    In the co-main event, local favorite Mark Hunt will try to continue a final trek toward the heavyweight title. Standing in his way is a talented up-and-comer in Curtis Blaydes.

    Three more bouts line out the main card for Saturday's action.

    The Bleacher Report staff are here to lend you their expert opinions on the main card bouts for UFC 221. Who are these experts? Steven Rondina, Scott Harris, Nathan McCarter and prediction team newcomer, Matthew Ryder.

    Here are your UFC 221 main card predictions.

Tyson Pedro vs. Saparbek Safarov

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    Steven Rondina

    This fight is a great testament to how bad UFC pay-per-views are in 2018. Tyson Pedro and Saparbek Safarov own a combined 2-2 UFC record. TWO AND TWO! Oh, the winner? Pedro, probably.

    Pedro, TKO, Rd. 1

            

    Matthew Ryder

    Pedro has kind of been marked as the next "star Down Under" by the UFC, being featured prior in Australia. He's young and has some UFC fights and has been…fine.

    He's fighting a guy with no Wikipedia page who's 0-1 in the UFC. It's his to lose.

    Pedro, submission, round 1

           

    Scott Harris

    A few of these main card matchups are showcase affairs for a promising Aussie competitor. Fair enough.

    So here's the first one: Safarov is an inexperienced bull-rusher who probably won't be able to stand up to Pedro's well-rounded attack.

    Pedro, submission, Rd. 2

            

    Nathan McCarter

    There's not much to add. Pedro is placed here to try to get some shine as one of the few prospects at 205 pounds. It should be a convincing victory.

    Pedro, TKO, Rd. 1

Jake Matthews vs. Li Jingliang

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    Steven Rondina

    I'm actually feeling really bullish when it comes to Li Jingliang. The Leech has transformed from a Chinese Dong Hyun Kim to a legitimate bruiser. I'm not going to anoint him a champ in the making, but I'll certainly take him here over Jake Matthews.

    Jingliang, submission, Rd. 2

            

    Matthew Ryder

    Another young guy the UFC would like to see become big in the Australia/New Zealand region is Matthews, but his test is tougher than Pedro's.

    Jiangling is a solid if unspectacular fighter who's won four in a row. Matthews has gone 1-1 in narrow split decisions recently after winning by stoppage in four of six, and I'll say he sputters against an underrated opponent.

    Jingliang, unanimous decision

           

    Scott Harris

    Jingliang has a physical advantage here and can bully Matthews on the feet. Here's guessing Matthews will keep his composure and, with the hometown winds at his back, get Jingliang to the ground and control him for the majority of the contest.

    Matthews, unanimous decision

            

    Nathan McCarter

    I'm joining Scott on this matchup. Jingliang has physical advantages and is almost always exciting, but his in-fight adjustments leave a lot to be desired.

    Matthews will exploit the overzealous nature of his opponent in order to score repeated takedowns. 30-27 across the board.

    Matthews, unanimous decision

Tai Tuivasa vs. Cyril Asker

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    Steven Rondina

    The UFC made this fight for the hefty Tai Tuivasa to start building up a highlight reel. I'm betting he does exactly that, too, against a soft-chinned Cyril Asker.

    Tuivasa, TKO, Rd. 1

          

    Matthew Ryder

    Tuivasa seems like he might be something in the incredibly shallow waters of heavyweight, if for no other reason than his age.

    Asker has alternated wins and losses in his UFC career, which speaks to his experience advantage here, but he never wins when the competition is ratcheted up.

    I'm thinking Tuivasa lands something big pretty early, hurts Asker, and finishes him on the ground to get the hype machine going a bit.

    Tuivasa, KO, round 1

            

    Scott Harris

    Another showcase fight. Asker is OK everywhere but not good enough in any phase to the point that it could stop Tuivasa from headhunting.

    Tuivasa, KO, Rd. 2

           

    Nathan McCarter

    Again, another bout made to make the Aussie crowd pop. Tuivasa should roll fairly easily over Asker.

    Tuivasa, TKO, Rd. 1

Mark Hunt vs. Curtis Blaydes

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    Steven Rondina

    Blaydes is too good for this to be a squash match, but this feels like a fight tailor-made for Hunt. The Super Samoan will stuff Blaydes' takedowns and land something hard in the first two rounds.

    Hunt, TKO, Rd. 1

           

    Matthew Ryder

    Man, this card is bad. Like, this is a for-reals main event? I guess.

    Blaydes will want to take Hunt down, but Hunt is actually super hard to take down. The Super Samoan keeps his wind long enough to keep Blaydes off him to catch him behind the ear and lay him flat.

    Hunt, KO, round 1

           

    Scott Harris

    If we're playing in a UFC keeper league, I take Blaydes and his skill set. He's bigger, faster and his wrestling is legit. But in front of his home crowd, Hunt is hard to beat. The 43-year-old makes another memory.

    Hunt, TKO, Rd. 1

           

    Nathan McCarter

    Speaking strictly on the skill set of each man, I rather like Blaydes in this spot. His wrestling is tailor-made to give someone like Hunt issues. But my concern with Blaydes is his penchant for allowing his opponents to hang around. That's going to spell doom against Hunt.

    Blaydes may score a couple early takedowns, but he'll be unable to get a finish. Then he'll tire. That will leave openings for Hunt to score another walkaway KO.

    Hunt, KO, Rd. 3

Yoel Romero vs. Luke Rockhold

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    Steven Rondina

    It's impossible to count Romero out when he's one of the biggest flash knockout threats in MMA...but Rockhold is the pick here.

    He's the better all-around fighter by a considerable margin, and if he can avoid getting his head exploded for long enough, he'll take control late and either handily take the decision or score a stoppage in the championship rounds.

    Rockhold, submission, Rd. 4

           

    Matthew Ryder

    This is the chewing gum and duct tape holding this card together. In any other context, people would be thrilled to see these lads throw down, and it's likely to be entertaining.

    Romero was in camp for a fight anyway when he agreed to replace Whittaker, so he'll come correct. Rockhold has been starving for a chance to redeem himself against someone elite since he was stopped by Michael Bisping at UFC 199.

    I've got Rockhold surviving an early burst from Romero and taking over late on his way to a pack of 48-47s across the board.

    Rockhold, unanimous decision

           

    Scott Harris

    These are two extremely skilled fighters. A lot of this fight could play out in the clinch or on the ground, though.

    It will be high level, but unexciting to the untrained eye. Romero will burst forth with a few of his classically unorthodox but effective salvos, and those will be what stick in the judges' memories.

    Romero, unanimous decision

           

    Nathan McCarter

    You can say what you want about this being a pay-per-view, but I feel lucky to get to finally watch this fight.

    Expect Rockhold to be conservative early as he waits for the quick bursts of Romero to give away his game plan. As the fight draws on, Rockhold will up the tempo and take advantage of a tired Romero.

    A focused Rockhold is a scary Rockhold, and his performance in the main event will make fans question who the real top middleweight is between him and Whittaker. Hopefully we get that answer later in 2018.

    Rockhold, TKO, Rd. 3