The focus heading into the UFC 221 interim middleweight title fight between Yoel Romero and Luke Rockhold was the fact it had a chance to be an amazing fight.
That idea shifted in another direction when Romero missed weight by almost three pounds and would no longer be competing for the belt. The fight was on the verge of not happening but after negotations, Romero agreed to forfeit 30 percent of his purse to Rockhold.
Romero's unprofessionalism cost not only money, but a belt — he knocked out Rockhold at 1:48 of the third round. Sporting News had the fight even heading into Round 3.
"I’m so sorry for the weight cut being so bad for me," Romero told Jon Anik in his post-fight interview. "That was the first time in my career I couldn’t get down."
Romero (13-2) had been scheduled to headline the UFC on Fox show later this month against David Branch. In mid-January, the UFC announced he would replace middleweight champion Robert Whittaker who had to pull out due to series of health issues. This wasn't a case of Romero taking a fight and not being in camp. He was already training but fighting two weeks early.
For the first two rounds, it was a tactical battle as Rockhold controlled the first round using primarily his leg kicks and connecting on the better strikes to keep Romero at bay. Romero came around in the second round using quick flurries to keep Rockhold guessing. Romero finished it off in the third round when blasting Rockhold with a left hand.
The fight had looked to be over as Rockhold appeared to be out, but referee Marc Goddard was nowhere to be seen and Romero finished Rockhold off with a left uppercut.
You had the situation where the title remained dormant for the majority of 2017 as Michael Bisping and Georges St-Pierre didn't fight until November at UFC 217. St-Pierre won the title, dropped it and Whittaker became the champion.
It is hard to give Romero the next shot at Whittaker even though he beat Rockhold decisively. What would have happened if Romero made 185 pounds? Did coming in overweight make a difference? Giving Romero the opportunity sets a bad precedent in rewarding fighters who couldn't do their job.
Romero winning causes more chaos in a division that desperately needed some clarity.
Rockhold (16-4) is now 1-2 in his last three fights.
(All times Eastern.)
UFC 221: Rockhold vs. Romero results
12:19: Round 2 to Romero (10-9, 19-19). Both fight teams must be reading this during the action. Romero came out more aggressive to start the round, charging right at Rockhold with a fury of combinations which sent Rockhold back for a moment. About 90 seconds later, Romero did the same thing again to the same result. He stood more on the pocket and willing to exchange with Rockhold. In the later half of the round, Rockhold started to gain some momentum back towards the end of the round. Lets see if Romero could keep the gas tank heading into the third round.
12:13: Round 1 to Rockhold (10-9). Rockhold did exactly what I said he needed to do, stay in Romero's face and consistent fire off shots. The leg kicks were the shots of choice for the former champion. Romero started come around halfway through the round with some leg kicks of his own. The 2000 Olympic silver medalist needs to be more active earlier in the round. Cannot fight for two minutes and expect to steal rounds.
12:01 a.m.: It is time for the main event of UFC 221 for the interim middleweight championship. No. 1 ranked Yoel Romero battles No. 2 ranked Luke Rockhold. Romero won't be fighting for the title as he failed to make weight, so Rockhold will be only one who can walk out the interim titleholder. How does Romero deal with coming in overweight? Can Rockhold put what happened on Friday in the past and once again become a UFC champion? If Romero can use his wrestling and efficiently use his gas tank, he has a good chance of winning. Rockhold needs to apply constant pressure early and utilize the striking which won him the title in 2015. Should be an amazing main event.
Curtis Blaydes defeats Mark Hunt
11:52: Blaydes def. Hunt by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 29-27). A very exciting opening round. For about half the round, Blaydes stayed on his feet and tried to strike with Hunt. Blaydes got a takedown but Hunt got up quickly. Hunt looked to have Blaydes finished as he landed multiple punches and nearly knocked him out with a thunderous right hand. To Blaydes' credit, he somehow survived and scored a key takedown to control the rest of the round. Not much happened in the second round. Hunt was tentative in his striking, not wanting to get taken down again. Blaydes finally secured a takedown much to the dismay of the crowd. He kept Hunt on the ground and smothered him for the remainder of the round.
The third round was much like the second round. Anytime Hunt would get up, Blaydes would rag doll him back to the mat and deliver more ground and pound punches to the face of Hunt. Give Blaydes a lot of credit: he went into Hunt's backyard, walked through shots 99 percent of the heavyweight division wouldn't be able to survive, came back and earned the biggest win of his career. He doesn't know who he wants to face next, but wants to be in his hometown of Chicago at UFC 225 in June. Blaydes is now unbeaten in his last five fights. We have a new contender in the heavyweight division which is sorely needed.
This is a tremendous showing for Blaydes, a 26 y.o. heavyweight prospect whose only loss came in his UFC debut against Ngannou when he was training on his own at a UFC Gym in Chicago.
This is why these cards and these fights matter.
— E. Spencer Kyte (@spencerkyte) February 11, 2018
11:29: Have never seen Hunt in such fantastic shape. Can tell he's taking the fight very seriously.
11:25: Coming up next in the co-main event of UFC 221, No. 5 ranked Mark Hunt squares off against No. 9 ranked Curtis Blaydes. It's been a wild ride for Hunt since his fourth-round TKO win over Derrick Lewis at UFC Fight Night 110 in June. He's still in a lawsuit against the UFC, Dana White and Brock Lesnar. He was scheduled to fight Marcin Tybura in the main event of a UFC Fight 121 in November but the UFC pulled him from the fight after Hunt said in an article that he was starting to suffer from memory loss, even though Hunt claimed he was joking and was fine. Hunt went to Las Vegas to take a series of tests. Ultimately, he got allowed to compete.
Blaydes is in the biggest fight of his career. He's unbeaten in his last four fights. The Chicago native will have to get the fight to the mat as he doesn't want to stand and trade with the one of the greatest strikers in the history of MMA.
Tai Tuivasa defeats Cyril Asker
11:13: Tuivasa def. Asker by TKO at 2:18 of the first round. That was a striking clinic at his finest. Tuivasa used his left and right hands and even used sharp standing elbows to Asker who was nothing more than a punching bag. Liked how Tuivasa showed maturity and would connect on a couple combinations, back off and then go to the body. Masterful performance by Tuivasa. In a division lacking names, Tuivasa instantly becomes someone we need to keep our eye on in 2018.
11:03: Coming up next at UFC 221, in the heavyweight action, Tai Tuivasa goes up against Cyril Asker. Many people feel Tuivasa will become the first Australian fighter to become the UFC heavyweight champion. He's undefeated in six fights, all wins coming by knockout or TKO including his UFC debut over Rashad Coulter at UFC Fight Night 121 in November. Asker's had a mixed bag so far in his UFC run, going 2-2. But he did emerge victorious in his last bout at UFC Fight Night 122, beating Yaozong Hu via second-round submission. Lot of pressure on Tuivasa here. Asker can easily spoil the party.
Jake Matthews defeats Li Jingliang
10:47: Matthews def. Jingliang by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 29-28). Great fight. It started with an entertaining first round. Matthews and Jingliang threw everything but the kitchen sink. But Matthews connected when it mattered, dropping Jingliang two times. He had a couple opportunities to choke out Jingliang but the latter survived the round. The second was just as exciting as the first round. Matthews dropped Jingliang with a vicious uppercut. On the mat, the referee inexcusbaly missed Jingliang eye gouging Matthews even though he was right on top of the action. Matthews and Jingliang got back to feet and unloaded the heavy artillery to the point where Matthews was wearing a crimson mask, daring Jingliang to keep punching him.
#UFC221: don’t call time or anything, ref. Don’t penalize Jingliang for the infraction either. Cripes!
— E. Spencer Kyte (@spencerkyte) February 11, 2018
Final round belonged to Matthews. His striking was the difference in the round. It kept Jingliang at bay and enough to bring home the victory. The evolution of Matthews is something to see coming up from lightweight and new life as he's won both fights since coming back to 170 pounds. Someone to definitely watch out for in a division where you could move up pretty quickly.
10:33: Up next at UFC 221, in welterweight action, Jake Matthews takes on Li Jingliang. After losing back-to-back fights, Matthews rebounded in November at UFC Fight Night 121 with a split-decision nod over Bojan Velickovic. Jingliang is on a tear, winning four in a row, most recently over Zak Ottow by first-round TKO at UFC Fight Night 122 bck in November. He also has the most wins by KO/TKO at four since 2014. Beyond the main event, this is the fight I'm looking forward to most. Both guys have superstar potential written all over them.
Tyson Pedro defeats Saparbek Safarov
10:28: Pedro def. Safarov by submission (kimura) at 3:54 of the first round. What had the makings of a kickboxing event, but it ended up turning into a win by submission. Early on, Safarov had Pedro in some trouble when he took him down to the mat. All that did was upset Pedro, and he decided to let it all hang out, mixing up his strikes, his kicks which stunned Safarov on a few occasions. Safarov had control against the cage and Pedro pulled off an amazing kimura sweep. He got the left leg over the head of Safarov and it was all she wrote. A beautiful submission by Pedro and one not seen too often. A great way to start the pay-per-view. Let's hope we see this type of action the rest of the evening.
10:10: Kicking off the main card of UFC 221, in light heavyweight action, No. 13 ranked Tyson Pedro takes on Saparbek Safarov. Pedro returns to his native Australia looking to get back on track after suffering the first loss of his career to Ilir Latifi at UFC 215. Safarov is a former Russian Combat Sambo champion returns from a 14-month layoff due to injury. He's also looking to rebound from his first ever loss to the hands of Gian Villante at UFC Fight Night 102 in Dec. 2016. Good way to start the pay-per-view.
9:59: Kim def. Brown via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28). Very close fight and hard to score. Could have went either way. Neither Kim or Brown did anything to separate themselves. Each guy was effective with the leg kicks and fought very technical. Not the most exciting fight in the world, but if you are a fan of technical striking, this was the one for you. Three wins in a row now for Kim. The main card starts in a few moments.
9:31: In the featured preliminary bout at UFC 221, in lightweight action, Damien Brown faces Dong Hyun Kim. Brown comes into the fight searching for win as he's lost back-to-back fights. After an initial rough start in losing his first two UFC bouts, Kim's bounced back with back-to-back wins. Shocked this was what the UFC went with in a big position instead of Formiga vs. Nguyen, which had two ranked fighters in the flyweight division and a weight classes that could use all the help it could get.
9:25: Adesanya def. Wilkinson by TKO at 3:37 of the second round. After a first round in which Wilkinson smothered Adesanya. He attempted ten takedowns and scored two of them. Adesanya showed a lot of poise and made it a point in the second round to not let that happen again. Adesanya kept it at his distance and went to work. He used a tactical plan as he used his precision punches and knees to leave Wilkinson a bloody mess. Liked the fact Adesanya didn't overexert himself. He knew he had Wilkinson in trouble and didn't crazy to get to the finish. Give him credit for showing that much poise with this being his UFC debut. He is one you better watch out for in 2018. Reminds me of a middleweight version of Jon Jones.
— FOX Sports: UFC (@UFCONFOX) February 11, 2018
9:10: Up next at UFC 221, in middleweight action, Rob Wilkinson squares off with Israel Adesanya. Wilkinson, another fighter from Australia lost his undefeated record in his UFC debut back in September at UFC Fight Night 115 to Siyar Bahadurzada. Adesanya is undefeated in 11 fights and is making his UFC debut. Adesenya is someone many have had their eyes on for awhile now as all of victories have been by either knockout or TKO. He gets a chance to show what he's got.
9:03: I discussed this earlier regarding some of the judges scores we have seen so far. Very concerning and something to keep in your mind as UFC 221 rolls on.
Per the UFC, the Western Australia Combat Sports Commission does not release names of judges nor how they score each round. Incredibly opaque. Never heard of such a thing.
— Marc Raimondi (@marc_raimondi) February 11, 2018
8:58: Shocked we didn't see a Rockhold feature first instead of Romero. He did his job. Why promote someone who couldn't be a professional and do his job?
8:53: Volkanovski def. Kennedy by TKO at 4:57 of the second round. Another great performance by Volkanovski. He bludgoened Kennedy from start to finish. Once he got Kennedy to the mat, it looked like we were watching lightweight title challenger Khabib Nurmagomedov with the vicious and relentless ground and pound to the face and body of Kennedy. Kennedy suffers the first loss of his career. Volkanovski's now won 14 consecutive fights and is someone to watch out for in the 145-pound division. Should vault into the rankings and get a ranked foe in his next contest. A monster to be reckon with.
Terrific performance from Volkanovski bouncing JBC from the ranks of the undefeated. #UFC221
— E. Spencer Kyte (@spencerkyte) February 11, 2018
8:33: Up next at UFC 221, in featherweight action, Jeremy Kennedy will face Alexander Volkanovski. Kennedy is undefeated in 11 fights including his first three inside the octagon. Volkanovski is 16-1, winning all three UFC tilts. They were supposed to meet last month at UFC Fight Night 121 in Australia but Kennedy had to bow out due to a back injury. Someone's undefeated UFC run will be gone. Should be a fun scrap between two highly touted prospects.
8:26: Formiga def. Nguyen by submission (rear-naked choke) at 1:43 of the third round. Great performance by Formiga. He used his takedowns and once he got Nguyen to the mat, he controlled the action with his ji-jitsu. The end came when Formiga blocked a right head kick and connected with a flush spinning back fist which sent Nguyen crumbling to the mat. Sensing Ngyuen was in trouble, Formiga used his world-class ji-jitsu and locked in the deep choke. Nguyen had no choice but to tap out.
That's two submission victories in a row for the guy most MMA pundits felt was the best 125-pounder in the world before a man named Demetrious Johnson entered the fray. The Brazilian is one of the select few who hasn't gotten a shot against the best fighter in the world. If Johnson doesn't face bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw next, Formiga should be the one to get the next opportunity.
8:06: Kicking off the UFC prelims on FS 1, in flyweight action, No. 4 ranked Jussier Formiga goes up against No. 8 ranked Ben Nguyen. Formiga enters the contest having won two of his last three fights with a victory over Yuta Sasaki at UFC Fight Night 117 in his last outing. Nguyen, a native of Australia, comes in having won 10 of his last 11 fights. This fight should have been on the main card instead of being the fourth fight of the cars ince it features a battle of top eight flyweights.
7:59: Pearson def. Hirota by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28). The name of the game for Pearson in this one was the left hand. He consistently popped the left jab and found a home with the left hook which busted up Hirota's face. A huge win for The Ultimate Fighter season nine winner. "The Real Deal" snapped a four-fight losing streak and enabled him to keep his job as another loss would have been the kiss of death for the Englishman. The UFC 221 preliminary card now moves over to Fox Sports 1.
7:50: All those tattoos on Pearson's body are a sight to see. I'm too afraid of a needle being on my body for so long.
7:40: Coming up next at UFC 221, in lightweight action, Ross Pearson battles Mizuto Hirota. Pearson, a 23-fight UFC veteran competing for his job enters the fight on a four-fight losing skid. Hirota comes into the bout 4-1-1 in his last six fights including most recently a loss to Alexander Volkanovski at UFC Fight Night 110 last June. Should be an all-action fight contested on the feet. Don't expect anything less than that.
7:33: Quinonez def. Ishihara by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28). Very hard to decipher how Quinonez won two rounds, yet alone one judge scoring all three for him. He definitely won the first round. Ishihara started to take control at the end of the opening round, knocking Quinonez down. Ishihara used constant pressure to stymie Quinonez including knocking him down again at the end of the second round and did the same thing in the final round. After two fights, the scores have been shaky and we could be in for a long night.
7:08: Up next at UFC 221, in bantamweight action, Teruto Ishihara goes up José Alberto Quiñónez. After going unbeaten in his first three UFC contests, Ishihara hit a skid, losing two of his last three fights. Ishihara will be making his UFC debut at 135 pounds did win his last outing over Rolando Dy at UFC Fight Night 117 by unanimous decision in September. Quinonez is riding a lot of momentum, winning three consecutive fights including the same show over Diego Rivas.
7:03: Jumeau def. Abe by unanimous decision (29-27, 29-28, 28-27). Abe started the fight on fire in the opening round, pounding Jumeai at will. But Abe emptied the gas tank in the first round and Jumeau showed a lot of heart, coming back and controlling the final 10 minutes. He mixed up his strikes and kicks to overwhelm Abe and get the victory. That is now eight victories in his Jumeau's last nine fights. The heart he showed will serve him well in a deep welterweight division. The 29-27 is baffling as that means someone gave Jumeau a 10-8 round. Some hometown cooking at its finest for the native of New Zealand.
6:40: Jimmy Smith is on the call making his UFC debut alongside Jon Anik. Smith, the longtime commentator for Bellaor signed with the company last month replaces Joe Rogan as the former doesn't do international events.
6:32: We kickoff UFC 221 on UFC Fight Pass. The first bout in welterweight action, Daichi Abe takes on Luke Jumeau . Abe is a former Pancrase welterweight champion, is undefeated in six fights including his UFC debut victory over Hyun Gyu Lim at UFC Fight Night 117 in September. Jumeau heads into the fight winning seven of his last eight fights. The lone loss was in his last outing on the same card as Abe, losing to Shinsho Anzai by unanimous decision. Crowd still filing in as the card began at 7:30 a.m. local time.
3:15: Sources have told Sporting News that Romero will be forfeiting 30 percent of his purse to Rockhold. Would have demanded more. Romero couldn't be professional and do his job. Hopefully, it will be a lesson to Romero and other fighters.
12:45: Hello, fight fans, I'm Steven Muehlhausen of Sporting News. In a few hours, UFC 221 will commence from the Perth Arena in Perth, Australia featuring an interim middleweight title between former champion Luke Rockhold and Yoel Romero. Due to Romero inexplicably missing weight, only Rockhold has a chance to win the championship.
UFC 221 fight card
Luke Rockhold vs. Yoel Romero for the Interim UFC Middleweight title (Rockhold only as Romero missed weight)
Mark Hunt vs. Curtis Blaydes; Heavyweight
Tai Tuivasa vs. Cyril Asker; Heavyweight
Jake Matthews vs. Li Jingliang; Welterweight
Tyson Pedro vs. Saparbek Safarov; Light Heavyweight
Damien Brown vs. Dong Hyun Kim; Lightweight
Rob Wilkinson vs. Israel Adesanya; Middleweight
Jeremy Kennedy vs. Alexander Volkanovski; Lightweight
Jussier Formiga vs. Ben Nguyen; Flyweight
Ross Pearson vs. Mizuto Hirota; Lightweight
Teruto Ishihara vs. José Alberto Quiñónez; Bantamweight
Luke Jumeau vs. Daichi Abe; Welterweight
UFC 221 latest news
- Yoel Romero badly misses weight; no longer fighting for championship.
- Who wins the key fights at UFC 221? We give you our predictions.
- Don't know too much about UFC 221? We tell you everything you need to know about the card.
- A sneak peak of "The Fob House" featuring Mark Hunt.
- Why Luke Rockhold feels UFC 221 is a huge event.
Steven Muehlhausen is an MMA and boxing writer and contributor for Sporting News. You can listen to his podcast, "The Fight Club Chicago," here . You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and can find him on Twitter @SMuehlhausenMMA .