The UFC will be raising its flag Down Under on February 10 when Yoel Romero and Luke Rockhold battle it out for the interim middleweight title. With Robert Whittaker out of the picture, UFC 221 in Perth will be a chance for two of the division’s veterans to stake their claim as the best in the world.
Indeed, prior to losing his title to Michael Bisping, Rockhold was the middleweight champion, and he’s been itching to get it back ever since. For Romero, this is his chance to get to the top of the 185lb division for the first time. Basically, whichever way you slice it, UFC 221’s main event is going to be an intense affair.
However, before we get to that, the Aussie card has a few interesting options for MMA betting fans. Helping get the main card underway at 3am GMT will be Australian native, Jake Matthews. At just 23 years old, Matthews is still a relative novice in the game, but he’s already built up a solid résumé. Of his 15 fights, he’s only tasted defeat three times, and his last outing saw him score a split decision win against the durable Bojan Veličković. On the opposing side, Li Jingliang currently stands as the 4/9 favourite with William Hill.
With the Chinese welterweight riding a four-fight win streak, the bookies are happy to make Matthews an outsider at this stage. However, what the odds experts seem to be missing is the fact that Matthews will be on home soil. Not only that, but every performance stat except the decision win percentage favours the local lad. While there’s no doubt it will be a tough test for the young fighter, Matthews is a live dog in this fight. Indeed, if you’re looking for UFC 221’s best-value bet, Matthews at 7/4 with Unibet could be it.
Also failing to win over the odds makers is veteran striker, Mark Hunt. Despite being from neighbouring New Zealand, Hunt will have the Aussies on his side when he steps out in the penultimate fight of the night. His opponent Curtis Blaydes is one of the hottest prospects in the heavyweight division thanks, in part, to his wrestling credentials. Indeed, when the bookmakers were setting their lines, his grappling appears to have been the defining factor.
For those that agree Blaydes’ grinding style will be too much for Hunt, 4/7 is currently the best price you’ll find. But, and this could be important, Hunt doesn’t get taken down as much as people think. In fact, the Super Samoan’s takedown defence rating is 68.97%. If he can continue to prove he’s no pushover at UFC 221, it could be a long and painful night for Blaydes. There are few people in the world who can take a punch from Hunt, which is why 11/8 at some top MMA bookmaker sites looks to be an attractive bet.
While Matthews and Hunt might be the value bets of UFC 221, the odds for the main event look to be less defined. In fact, if you look at the best prices out there at the moment, Betway has Luke Rockhold at 5/6, while others are tipping Yoel Romero at 5/4. To put it another way, opinions are split and no one is really sure which way this one’s going to go. In terms of picking out some value, this fight is a tough one to speculate on. If we’re looking at it from a technical perspective, Rockhold is the more polished fighter. However, with his power, wrestling background and unpredictability, Romero can upset anybody.
One thing Rockhold knows is that Romero tends to gas out in the later rounds, which would suggest he’ll look to keep his distance early and tire out his opponent. For Romero, explosive attacks will be the key to victory. Rockhold has a measured, almost lackadaisical style that he uses to lull fighters into a false sense of security. On top of this, he has a self-belief that borders on arrogance and, as we’ve seen in the past, that can leave him open to attacks. If Romero can exploit these tendencies with his blitzing style, it could be too much for Rockhold to handle.
In practice, it’ll come down to who executes their game plan on the night. When push comes to shove, Rockhold should get the nod on this occasion if we go by all-round skills alone. However, anything could happen, so don’t be surprised if Romero blasts his way to the interim middleweight title on February 10.