Post-Fight Thoughts: Luke Rockhold -vs- Yoel Romero
If there wasn't already an air of disappointment and dissatisfaction with the current UFC product, then the saga of UFC 221 might seem out of the ordinary. Initially slated to headline the UFC's return to Australia was middleweight champion Robert Whittaker. A one-two punch of injury and illness took the newly crowned champ off the fight card, and instead fans were given yet another interim title fight: Luke Rockhold would remain on the card and challenge Yoel Romero. All seemed well until Yoel Romero missed weight, coming in at 187.5 pounds, but luckily Rockhold opted to take the fight — and 30% of the challenger's purse — regardless.
I didn't do any pre-fight analysis for this bout, and made a last-minute pick where I chose Rockhold to win. Earlier in the day, I had seen a video posted on Twitter that showed Romero walking with a visible leg injury — which many speculated was a torn meniscus. I will admit, this played into my hasty choice; I figured Romero's only hope was a 'lucky' KO. I figured Rockhold would implement his usual gameplan of staying at range, using kicks to maintain distance, and if Romero had a bad wheel then this would be ideal for the former UFC and Strikeforce middleweight champion. For the better part of 2 rounds, that's exactly how things played out; Rockhold stayed at range and Romero was very tentative and judicious with his energy expenditure.
Things came crashing down, quickly, in the third frame, as Romero managed to catch Rockhold with heavy punch that knocked him off his feet and sent him back into the cage. From there, Romero simply marched forward and delivered a kill-shot in the form of a brutal uppercut to a prone Rockhold — starching him completely at that point. Visually there were a lot of similarities to how Romero finished Rockhold and when Michael Bisping KO'ed him to win the 185-pound belt in June of 2016. I don't know if Rockhold's style has been completely solved, but it's a point worth considering given the fact he is 1-2 over his last 3 fights and has been stopped in brutal fashion in both losses.
As to whether or not his chin is diminished, I don't think we can say: the punches that Yoel Romero ended their fight with were devastating — anyone would have gone out from those. Prior to this fight, Rockhold did say that moving up to the light heavyweight division was an inevitability, maybe that is something to consider in the wake of this loss. Middleweight isn't the deepest division in the UFC, but light heavyweight is even more barren and Rockhold could very quickly climb the ranks with only a few wins. It's unlikely that foregoing a hard weight cut will help him take punches any better, but it could give his career a second wind as right now it looks as though he may be on the cusp of a decline. If nothing else, his last 3 fights have shown some defensive issues and a stagnation of his overall game.
On the other hand, Yoel Romero finds himself in an interesting position. Despite not winning the interim title, due to coming in overweight, Romero has still be granted the next shot at Robert Whittaker anyway. Not that you could award it to anyone else, but the optics are still a bit goofy — why did they even bother with the interim stipulation? Regardless, a rematch between the two should make for another entertaining fight, just as their first contest did. Romero was unable to stand during his post-fight interview, and went to the hospital immediately after. It was initially speculated that Romero suffered a broken leg in the fight, but that no longer appears to be the case. Hopefully he and Whittaker can stay healthy and rematch sooner rather than later.
UFC 221 wasn't a bad event, even if it looked underwhelming on paper; I came away from the show quite satisfied. The main event was violent and exciting, even if Romero's victory rendered the interim stipulation — and the weight class restriction — moot in earning his rematch with Robert Whittaker. The divisional rankings are still a bit screwy, but Romero's decisive victory does help clarify the title picture somewhat. This event exceeded my expectations, but I am going to need more consistency from the UFC product to assuage my growing apathy as a fan — they kind of got 'lucky' this weekend.
Published: February 11th, 2018.