MAJOR question marks were hanging over the interim UFC middleweight title immediately after Cuban Yoel Romero defeated American Luke Rockhold in today’s UFC 221 event at Perth Arena.
The issue comes after the Cuban #1 middleweight contender failed to makes the 185 pound middleweight limit yesterday, putting the fight in limbo for a few hours, and making him ineligible to win the division’s interim title against the American.
Missing weight at weigh-in also ruled Romero ineligible for any bonuses during UFC 221, including fight of the night and performance of the night, and had left fans wondering what would happen to the division if Romero won today.
So when Romero delivered his bout-ending blow at 1:48 into the third round after an explosive first two rounds, the question about whether there was an interim champion to be named came pouring in over social media.
But in an unceremonious conclusion to the pay-per-view events, no belt was presented to Romero, leaving Aussie Robert Whittaker as undisputed UFC middleweight champion.
It was a disappointing loss for Rockhold, who held the UFC middleweight belt back in 2015 but lost it to Englishman Michael Bisping just six months later.
Romero came off a loss in July last year to Whittaker, who was originally slated for the UFC 221 main event but had to pull out reportedly due to a staph infection and a subsequent bout of chickenpox.
“Rockhold is a very good fighter, former UFC champion and Strikeforce champion, and I’m very happy that I fought the best in my division,” Romero said during his post-fight interview.
“I trained very hard for this fight.
“We worked very hard in sparring and on the power that Luke has.”
Before the title fight, the crowd at the highest-grossing event for Perth Arena was treated to a magnificent display by most of the home-grown fighters.
The 12,437-strong crowd was very vocal during the event, with wrestling fans letting out “woos” to the chagrin of mixed martial arts enthusiasts.
During the main card, in a sleek sexy turnover, Aussie light-heavyweight Tyson Pedro easily beat Russian Saparkbek Safarov via submission with an opportunistic kimura.
“We haven’t practiced kimuras at all, I just ripped it I knew he wasn’t going to hold on to that,” Pedro said in his post-fight interview.
“He’s got pretty hard hits for a Dad bod.
“I’m actually holding an injury, (but) I couldn’t pull out with you guys (in Perth) coming out like this.
“I told you we were going to put on a show even though Rob (Whittaker) wasn’t here; how do you like it so far?”
Next up, Jake Matthews dominated in the first welterweight round, landing blows while wrapped around opponent Li Jingliang, searching for the rear naked choke to no avail but doing plenty of damage in the five minutes.
Both fighters went in swinging hard in the second round, with Matthews dodging some heavy blows beautifully, and they continued to throw everything they had at each other in the third round.
To chants of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi”, Matthews won by unanimous decision with judges scoring him 29-28, 30-26, 30-26.
The third bout during the main card saw former Sydney Roosters prop Tai Tuivasa walk out to Daryl Braithwaite’s Horses, garnering stacks of support from the crowd as they sang along to the chorus.
Heavyweight Tuivasa wasted no time in delivering giant swings, pummelling opponent Cyril Asker with ease for 70 seconds.
The Aboriginal/Samoan dominated the whole time with body blows and strikes to the Frenchman’s face, resulting in a win by total knockout.
“He’s a tough dude, real tough dude, much respect to Cyril,” Tuivasa said.
“I’m still surprised I didn’t get the $50,000 (Performance of the Night bonus).
“I sent that guy back to France and still nothing.”
In the co-main event, Aussie Mark “Super Samoan” Hunt took on American Curtis Blaydes in a slug fest.
Although Hunt was the force behind several huge blows, Blaydes showed his dominance by throwing Hunt to the mat several times.
In a disappointing but unsurprising result, Blaydes was declared winner over the Aussie favourite via unanimous decision, scoring 30-26, 30-26, 29-27 from the judges.
“It feels great (to win),” Blaydes said.
“I debuted against Francis Ngannou who is the heaviest hitter that I ever faced.
“I don’t have the best head movement, I’m a wrestler but I know I have a chin.
“I hope I get the respect I deserve; I hope I get in the UFC video game.
“Two of the guys I’ve already beat have been in there so I felt that was a big disrespectful.”
This is the first time Perth has played host to the UFC franchise, kicking off with a pay-per-view event that has been at the centre of many a fan discussion over whether it had a strong enough card to be a numbered UFC bout.
Earlier in the prelims, UFC ranked no. 4 flyweight Jussier Formiga beat American Ben Nguyen in glorious fashion at 1:43 into the third round, submitting Nguyen via rear naked choke.
Brazilian Formiga didn’t need his translator to ask for a title shot in his post-fight interview: “(UFC president) Dana White, I want my shot, please.”
Subsequently, Aussie Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski took down Canadian Jeremy Kennedy , with Kennedy hanging on for dear life over two rounds after multiple take downs.
Referee Marc Goddard called a stop to the bout as Kennedy could do little to stop Volkanovski’s ground and pound, declaring a win by total knockout.
In a ballsy move in his post-fight interview, Volkanovski calld out American Jeremy Stephens for his next fight.
Stephens is fresh from a TKO win against South Korean Doo Ho Choi just last month.
Kiwi debutante Israel Adesanya put the pressure on Sydneysider Rob Wilkinson in the two rounds it took to see a defeat, with Wilkinson spraying blood at his opponent in a last-ditch effort to keep him away.
It was inevitable Adesanya’s relentless, aggressive effort would result in a stoppage, it was just a matter of when.
The confident 28-year-old knew he had made his mark with the fight.
“You all act like you don’t know me, well you know me now,” Adesanya said.
“Middleweights, I’m the new dog in the yard, I just pissed all over this cage.”
Finally, lightweight Dong Hyun Kim enjoyed his third win in a row against Aussie Damien Brown
Through his interpreter, Dong said Brown was a tough opponent.
“He was well-prepared; I had to switch my stance and kicks,” Dong said.
The Fight of the Night bonus went to Matthews vs Li, and Performance of the Night went to Adesanya and Formiga.
UFC senior vice-president David Shaw said the Perth event far exceeded the UFC’s expectations.
“We’d love to be back at some point, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.
“We haven’t finalised anything for the remainder of the year for UFC in Australia.
“That November date works very well so for us it’s a good time so we don’t have anything in the works but we’ll certainly be back.”
- Welterweight – Luke Jumeau def. Daichi Abe via unanimous decision
- Bantamweight – Jose Quinonez def. Teruto Ishihara via unanimous decision
- Lightweight – Ross Pearson def. Mizuto Hirota via unanimous decision
- Flyweight – Jussier Formiga def. Ben Nguyen via submission (rear naked choke)
- Featherweight – Alexander Volkanovski def Jeremy Kennedy via TKO (elbow and punches)
- Middleweight – Israel Adesanya def. Rob Wilkinson via TKO
- Lightweight – Dong Hyun Kim def. Damien Brown via split decision
- Light heavyweight – Tyson Pedro def. Saparbek Safarov via submission (kimura)
- Welterweight – Jake Matthews def. Li Jingliang via unanimous decision
- Heavyweight – Tai Tuivasa def. Cyril Asker by TKO
- Heavyweight –Curtis Blaydes def. Mark Hunt by unanimous decision
- Middleweight interim title fight – Yoel Romero def. Luke Rockhold by knockout