Last weekend’s UFC 221 event is in the books, and now that the dust has settled in Australia, it’s time to go to the scorecard to see who the big winners were at Perth Arena.
1 – Yoel Romero
Yoel Romero got a little scarier last weekend in Perth. Yes, he always had the explosive power that could change the course of a fight in a split second, the wrestling that earned him an Olympic silver medal, and the offensive unpredictability that made it impossible to get a read on him. But against Luke Rockhold, he showed something he rarely has in the past, and that’s patience. Fighting when he chose to while still staying close enough to his opponent to not lose any significant momentum, Romero waited for his time to attack, and the result was an early flurry in round two that marked Rockhold’s face up, and then the pair of finishing left hands that gave him another highlight reel knockout. If this Romero shows up and doesn’t fade late in a five-round fight, he’s going to be a handful for anyone at 185 pounds.
2 – Curtis Blaydes
"I want on Chicago."
Curtis Blaydes didn’t make any friends in Australia by beating one of their fighting icons in Mark Hunt, but that’s just fine with the Chicago native, who shook off bombs that have felled fighters in the past and then played it smart over the next two rounds. Notice I didn’t say safe, because Blaydes didn’t just take Hunt down and hold him there for 10 minutes. He stayed busy and used a solid ground-and-pound attack that earned him the biggest win of his career and cemented him as a fighter to keep an eye on in the heavyweight ranks.
3 – Jussier Formiga
Even before the UFC had a flyweight division, the word on the street was that Jussier Formiga was the man to beat at 125 pounds. Then the UFC brought the division into the fold in 2012, and Formiga followed later that year. That’s when it got interesting, as Formiga only went 5-4 in his first nine fights. He only lost to killers and always remained in the rankings, but it wasn’t until he won his last two bouts against Ulka Sasaki and Ben Nguyen that he is finally within striking range of a shot at champion Demetrious Johnson. And no one fought harder to get here.
4 – Jake Matthews
Jake Matthews has had quite a career for only being 23 years old, but through the ups and downs, he’s taken the highs with grace and the lows as learning experiences. So when he beat surging Li Jingliang in last weekend’s Fight of the Night, it wasn’t just a bout announcing his arrival as a top welterweight prospect, but it showed off his improved striking, grit, and fighting spirit. And I can tell you from experience that the class he showed when addressing the eye gouge he took from Li is no act. This is a wise beyond his years young man and a credit to the game.
5 – Israel Adesanya
"You know who I am now!"
Who says we can’t have nice things? Israel Adesanya came into the UFC with a boatload of hype, and in one of those fight game rarities, he lived up to it in stopping Rob Wilkinson. Add in a memorable post-fight interview that declared war on the middleweight division, and it looks like we’ll be talking about “The Last Stylebender” for a long time.