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

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Another tough loss for the Texans. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans started fast but faltered late as the New York Jets hand Houston their ninth loss of the season 21-14. Here are 11 observations from the game.

1. Starting safety Justin Reid was benched for the game. David Culley said after the game it was his decision as head coach and he would keep the matter internal with Reid.

2. This is the third defender benched for disciplinary reasons this season. Reid joins Zach Cunningham and Desmond King as players who missed time for discipline.

3. Justin Reid told Fox 26 he was benched because he had a disagreement with the coaching staff. He also said he was shocked the Texans benched him. You have to wonder if the “culture” the team is building is right when one of the more likable and personable players falls victim to their rules. Reid, who is a free agent this offseason, could leave the Texans.

4. Tyrod Taylor had a couple of nice plays early on for the Texans. His willingness to take some shots downfield was refreshing and led to a touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks.

5. Rookie tight end Brevin Jordan found the end zone. He has played well in recent weeks after finally getting on the field. Jordan is playing over Jordan Akins as Akins was a healthy scratch again this week.

6. Tytus Howard started at left tackle with mixed results. Howard has struggled to find his way at guard but could be a long-term option at tackle if given the chance.

7. The offensive line overall played poorly after some early success. The pass rush of the Jets got going and the run blocking was poor again. Lane Taylor played at left guard some, with Max Scharping also playing some at that spot.

8. The offense was horrendous after the two scoring drives. The Texans amassed 202 net yards with 91 yards coming on those two scoring drives. Houston gained just 49 net yards after their opening three drives.

9. After the game, I asked David Culley if he would be making a change with his play-caller. Culley stood behind offensive coordinator Tim Kelly and said he would remain the team’s play-caller.

10. Second-year defensive lineman Ross Blacklock had two horrible errors that handed the Jets a chance to turn three points into seven points. Blacklock got a personal foul on a field goal attempt giving the Jets a first down. The very next play his offsides penalty erased a sack. Each week Blacklock falls even more behind a bevy of players drafted after him who contribute positively on a regular basis.

11. The loss to another bottom-dweller has the Texans back in the second spot in the 2022 NFL Draft order. It also feels like the deflating nature of this loss erased some of the good feelings after the victory over the Titans. The Indianapolis Colts come to Houston next week to begin December’s portion of the schedule.

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