The main event of UFC 221 has gone through to hell and back before reaching its final form. On Saturday, Feb. 11, Perth, Australia hosts the headlining middleweight title fight. It’s just not the 185-pound scrap fans thought they were getting.
This action-packed UFC card will feature some big-money contests for the event over at DraftKings.
When 221 was first announced, the UFC planned for Georges St. Pierre and Robert Whittaker to fill the main event slot. First, St. Pierre dropped off the card and then relinquished the UFC title. Then, Whittaker got injured. Now, the new main event will feature Yoel Romero versus Luke Rockhold.
Rockhold comes into UFC 221 having won his last fight while Romero steps into the cage coming off a loss to the aforementioned Whittaker.
With 12 fights overall, UFC 221 features a ton of Australian and Kiwi fighters as well as a host of unknown prospects with a chance to make a name for themselves.
With fight week upon us, there are several UFC fighters worth considering for your UFC 221 DraftKings lineup. Check out our analysis for the main card and three additional undercard fighters who may be underpriced.
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UFC Interim Middleweight Championship: Yoel Romero vs. Luke Rockhold
At the end of UFC 221, either Luke Rockhold or Yoel Romero will be in possession of 24 pounds of UFC gold. On DraftKings, Rockhold comes in as a small favorite with a price of $8.3k. With only one loss in his UFC career, Romero is priced at $7.9k for UFC 221.
When Rockhold captured the UFC middleweight title in 2015 at age 31, he was supposed to hold onto the belts for years. He trains at one of the best gyms in MMA (American Kickboxing Academy), holds a black belt in jiu-jitsu, and has a career filled with highlight striking techniques. But then, Rockhold’s first title defense saw him on the wrong end of a Michael Bisping comeback. The 33-year-old took only one fight in 2016 and one in 2017.
Prior to his loss at the hands of Whittaker back in July 2017, Romero was 8-0 in the UFC with six violent KO/TKO finishes. A silver medalist freestyle wrestler for Cuba at the 2000 Olympics, Romero came into MMA back in 2009 and mostly got by on his pure grappling talents as well as his inhuman strength. Before his five-round decision loss to Whittaker, Romero looked nearly unbeatable.
Rockhold versus Romero is a high-level, guaranteed action fight. With so much offensive firepower between both men, it’s unlikely the main event will go the distance. Rockhold has the striking edge, but with each passing fight, Romero’s stand-up, mixed with his natural power, improves.
If you’re looking for a x-factor, the fact that Romero is on the wrong side of 40 may come into play. Few can match him athletically, but he has to slow down sometime. Rockhold has the talent to finish any fighter at middleweight on a given night. Ultimately, Rockhold is my pick for a late-round stoppage due to his big-fight experience, submission skills, and striking edge.
Heavyweight: Mark Hunt vs. Curtis Blaydes
With a massive 17-year age difference between competitors, UFC 221’s co-main event looks like a passing-of-the-torch fight on paper. At $8.4k on DraftKings, 26-year-old Curtis Blaydes is a solid favorite over 43-year-old Mark Hunt and his $7.8k.
Perhaps best known for getting brutalized by Francis Ngannou in his UFC debut, Blaydes has quietly gone 3-0 with one no contest (a Blaydes win that was overturned after he tested positive for marijuana) since losing his UFC debut. Blaydes is 2-0 since his drug bust, and seven of his eight pro MMA wins came via KO/TKO stoppages. Blaydes has power in both hands, and he may be running into Hunt on the downslope of the vet’s combat sports career.
Before he was a perennial top 10 MMA heavyweight, Hunt was a world-class kickboxer with over 40 pro fights. In addition to his run as a kickboxer, Hunt has added a 13-year MMA career to his long combat sports resume. With a 3-4 record over his last seven fights, how much longer can Hunt’s body and chin hold up to MMA heavyweight striking?
Blaydes is a young and powerful heavyweight, so he is the pick to add to his highlight reel. But watch for Hunt’s striking advantage to come into play sometime in the three-round contest. Hunt’s ability to finish the fight off one strike makes Blaydes a risky pick.
Heavyweight: Tai Tuivasa vs. Cyril Asker
Hailing from St. Mary’s, Australia, 24-year-old Tai Tuivasa ($9.3k) is one of the most exciting heavyweight prospect the division has seen in years. He’s also the biggest DraftKings favorite at UFC 221. Opposite the home-country favorite will be 32-year-old Frenchman Cyril Asker ($6.9k).
Only 6-0 in his MMA career, 1-0 in the UFC, Tuivasa has stopped all six of his opponents inside the first round. A longtime sparring partner of Mark Hunt, Tuivasa made his UFC debut back in November. He won via flying-knee KO. Tuivasa also has a 5-2 professional boxing record to his credit.
An experienced, five-year pro, Asker holds a 9-3 pro MMA record but has alternated wins and losses in his four-fight UFC run. At a strength and athletic disadvantage, Asker does hold the wrestling edge over Tuivasa. Asker’s best and maybe only path to victory is to make the fight an ugly grappling affair.
In a clear showcase fight from the UFC, Tai Tuivasa is the pick. He should put away Asker by the first or second round via KO.
Welterweight: Jake Matthews vs. Li Jingliang
Aussie Jake Matthews ($7.4k) entered the UFC as one of the hottest lightweight prospects in the company. Three years later, he’ll need to pull off an upset over the favored Li Jingliang ($8.8k) in front of his countrymen to validate his pedigree.
Still only 23, Matthews has had an uneven UFC career. He holds a 5-3 record with all but one of his fights coming at lightweight. Matthews moved up in weight in his last fight and looked sluggish in his 170-pound debut, which he won by close decision. An above-average athlete and a great wrestler, Matthews will have to fight smart to take home the win at UFC 221.
In the midst of a four-fight winning streak, Jingliang has shown improvement in each and every one of his UFC bouts. The 29-year-old and four-year UFC fighter holds a 6-2 mark under the promotion and 14-4 record overall. Prior to signing with the UFC, Jingliang was known as a grappler. Since arriving under the bright lights, four of his last six wins came via decisive KO/TKO finishes.
Despite having home-cage advantage, all signs point to Jake Matthews coming up short versus Li Jingliang.
Light heavyweight: Tyson Pedro vs. Saparbek Safarov
Fighting out of Sydney, Tyson Pedro ($9.1k) is the third-largest favorite on DraftKings. Meanwhile, Russian Saparbek Safarov ($7.1k) looks to ruin his homecoming.
Both Pedro and Safarov where previously unbeaten before losing their last fights. Pedro dropped a three-round decision to the more experienced Ilir Latifi while Safarov got thoroughly dominated and TKO’d over one year ago by Gian Villante.
How will both men react to their recent setbacks? And how will Safarov bounce back from a 13-month layoff?
Tyson Pedro gets the nod, but he may be too big a favorite to pencil into your lineup. With a boxing background and four MMA wins by submission in his career, Pedro simply has more ways to win the fight than Safarov.
Three underdogs for UFC 221 DraftKings lineups
Ben Nguyen ($8.1k): A former bantamweight, 29-year-old Ben Nguyen debuted at flyweight in the UFC. He’s gone 4-1 since. His opponent, Jussier Formiga ($8.1k), is 2-2 in his last four UFC bouts and may be due for an upset. Nguyen’s size and punching power make him a good pick over Formiga. This is priced as a toss-up fight.
Luke Jumeau ($8.0k): Looking to rebound from a decision loss back in September, 29-year-old New Zealander Luke Jumeau is a well-rounded fighter. Only a MMA pro for less than two years, Daichi Abe ($8.2) holds a ground game edge over Jumeau, but everywhere else it’s a wash. A more experienced striker, fighting in front of a crowd that will be behind him, gives Jumeau enough intangibles to nab an upset victory.
Mizuto Hirota ($7.6k): Closing in on his 13th year as a MMA pro, 36-year-old Mizuto Hirota may be underpriced because he is coming off a decision loss in his last fight. The problem is Ross Pearson ($8.6K) enters as the favorite and has lost his last four fights. Plus, his last loss came via brutal KO. With 10 KO/TKO wins in his career, Hirota has a great shot to score a win over Pearson.
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