IN THE OCTAGON

A.J. Hoffman: UFC 221 preview

Luke Rockhold headlines UFC 221. UFC.com

UFC 221 was built on Robert Whittaker getting to fight former champion Luke Rockhold in front of an Australian crowd. Unfortunately, the middleweight champion suffered a nasty staph infection and had to pull from the fight. The UFC found a suitable replacement in Yoel Romero, who had gone 8-0 in the UFC before losing a “Fight of the Night” worthy decision against Whittaker back in July. Here is a look ahead at the card. 

The headliner features Rockhold (16-3) taking on Romero (12-2) for the interim title and first crack at Whittaker upon his return. Romero hasn’t seen any action since his loss to Whittaker, a fight where he started strong and faded in the late rounds. Rockhold looked on his way to a long title reign after his dismantling of Chris Weidman, but was upset by Michael Bisping in a fight that it appeared Rockhold didn’t take quite as seriously as he should have. I wouldn’t expect for that to be the case against Romero, who is a known one-punch knockout artist. Stylistically, Rockhold appears to have a massive advantage here. He is extremely effective from distance with both punches and kicks, and if the fight does end up on the ground, he will have a clear edge. The only way it appears Romero can win is with a big overhand left. You can’t discount the possibility, seeing as Rockhold was KO’ed by a less powerful Bisping. Rockhold will need to protect his chin and fight at a smart distance to walk out of Australia with a belt around his waist.

The co-main event features heavyweights with very different styles. Mark Hunt (13-11-1) will have the home crowd behind him against Curtis Blaydes (8-1), but the fight will come down to whether or not Hunt can stop takedown attempts. While Blaydes has improved his striking since his UFC debut, he is still not at a level where he can bang it out on the feet with Hunt. Hunt has knocked out Derrick Lewis, Frank Mir and Antonio Silva in his last 5 fights. Blaydes will undoubtably use the strategy that Brock Lesnar used against Hunt: Takedown attempts, followed by takedown attempts, and finally more takedown attempts. Blaydes is an accomplished wrestler and has the top-control to hold Hunt down for extended bursts. Hunt still has fight-ending power that will typically be set up by low kicks that lead to overhand rights. 

Jake Matthews (11-3) takes on Li Jangling (14-4), who is looking to build on a four-fight winning streak. Matthews is a former TUF contender who is going into his ninth UFC fight. Matthews is a versatile fighter, but sometimes focuses too much on his offense and forgets to not get hit. Jangling is 6-2 since getting to the UFC, and comes off an impressive TKO of Zak Ottow back in November. He also has his defensive flaws, but seems to have a way of fighting through contact and landing strong flurries that can finish fights. This should be a back and forth battle that could potentially go the distance. 

In a battle of light heavyweight prospects, Tyson Pedro (6-1) takes on Saparbek Safarov (8-1) in the pay-per view opener. While Safarov will want to make the fight ugly and push forward to impose offense, Pedro prefers the fight on the ground where he can unleash punches from top, or take the back (he has 3 rear-naked chokes on his resume). Both guys will feel the pressure of fighting coming off a loss, and in Safarov’s case a loss would make him 0-2 in the UFC, which is almost assuredly a ticket back to the regional circuit. 

The undercard features Damien Brown taking on Dong Hyun Kim, as well as Jussier Formiga, Ross Pearson and Alexander Volkanovski.

PREDICTIONS


Rockhold by TKO

Blaydes by DEC

Tuivasa by TKO

Matthews by DEC

Pedro by DEC

Brown by DEC

Adesanya by KO

Volkanovski by DEC

da Silva by SUB

Pearson by DEC

Quironez by DEC

Abe by KO

SOURCE: WWE IMAGES

Born with a comic book in one hand and a remote control in the other, Cory DLG is the talent of Conroe's very own Nerd Thug Radio and the sister show Ball Control. Check out the podcast replay of the FM radio shows at www.nerdthugradio.com or www.facebook.com/nerdthugradio!

Another week has come and gone in the world of wrestling and there was a lot of changes and waves made this week.

In Raw, Braun Stroman was stripped of his title match for making a rather formidable display of strength by flipping a limousine over onto its side. It was incredibly impressive, even as a bit as Braun has been recovering from elbow surgery and this sort of proves physically he is back and that is bad news for whomever gets in front of him. Rising out of the ashes of that now dead match was a fatal four way where the haircut-needing walking myth himself John Cena passed the torch to one Finn Balor, the first ever WWE Universal Champion who relinquished his title due to injury. The intercontinental title passing to Bobby Lashley was an odd turn considering all three men - Lashley, Rollins and Ambrose - involved in that match now have held the title in the last month. There were still some corny bits, some scripted almost nudity from still injured Alexa Bliss resulting in the best eye roll in history from Renee Young, but they were balanced by the announcement of a women's tag team division, finally.

On Smackdown, the ship keeps feeling like it's listing, like the show is moving in the wrong direction somehow. The opening with Becky Lynch was amazing, the building of her character into this massive star has been incredible and more of this is what Smackdown needs. She opened her match with a massive throat punch that shows a kind of cocky dominance Smackdown as a whole is lacking, a feeling that some of these guys are truly legendary badasses. The Mandy Rose wants to ruin a marriage storyline continues for some reason and yet again Naomi and Mandy came to blows with no resolution. When will it end? The show overall was flat but it did end with a Shane McMahon coast to coast, leaping cake in the face on Shamus.

The WWE has started the process of introducing some new talent, with Nicki Cross involved in a three on three women's tag team match on Raw and with Heavy Machinery -a tag team- playing comic relief and Lacey Evans standing around sipping tea, not an exaggeration at all. Hopefully these three can do more than reorganize the deck chairs on what is starting to feel like The USS Smackdown post iceberg, but only time will tell.

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