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UFC 221 Picks

MMA Fight: UFC 221
Key Matches: Luke Rockhold vs. Yoel Romero
When: Saturday, February 11, 2018
Time: 9PM EST
Where: Perth Arena, Perth, Australia
TV: PPV

by Loot, MMA Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

Luke Rockhold, (+140), 16-3 (4 KOs, 10 Submissions) vs. Yoel Romero, (-170), 12-2 (10 KOs)

Former UFC Middleweight Champion Luke Rockhold takes on dangerous contender Yoel Romero on February 11 in Perth in a battle of top 185-pounders. The Cuban will be the favorite fighting against the former UFC 185-pound champion in Rockhold, who won his only fight since losing his belt to Michael Bisping in June of 2016, beating David Branch in September. In Romero's last bout, he lost a unanimous decision to Robert Whittaker, who was scheduled to defend his title in this fight against Rockhold before being lost with an injury. Fans can still count on a great middleweight bout in this main event, with Romero coming in to fill-in and save the main event.

Romero came up short against Whittaker, but still cuts a striking image. He's one of the better-built fighters in the sport, though he is pushing the envelope age-wise at 40. He ran into a red-hot fighter in Whittaker and came up short, but still holds a lot of big wins in this division. He is a super-athlete who parlayed a long and successful wrestling career into the sport of MMA where he has picked up the art of striking, ending ten of his 12 wins inside the distance. He can perform extreme feats of athleticism in the octagon. And he's made it work against top-flight middleweight talent like Derek Brunson, Tim Kennedy, Lyoto Machida, Jacare Souza, and Chris Weidman. That's a lot of big wins for a guy who never won the title and suggests he should be right in his wheelhouse with Rockhold.

Romero can't be taken lightly. He has a certain level of explosiveness that makes him a threat to any living 185-pounder. An internationally-decorated wrestler with numerous accomplishments to his credit, he really picked up the striking aspect. He can explode suddenly, flying through the air with devastating knees and he can also take his opponent's back with little struggle and throw guys around. He stopped ex-champ Weidman with a flying knee, another ex-champ in Machida with elbows, and used fists to beat Tim Kennedy. He can get you out of there in a variety of ways. He's extremely muscular, but without the stiffness in motion that plagues a lot of fighters with a Mr. Universe kind of physique.

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We cannot forget the former champion Rockhold, however. The 33-year old has a resume that indicates he's right in where he belongs in this matchup. The knockout loss to Bisping was a bad setback, but he has also submitted Bisping before in a previous fight. He also has wins over Jacare Souza, Tim Kennedy, Tim Boetsch, Lyoto Machida, and Chris Weidman. A win over a rising contender in David Branch in September showed he still has what it takes to win a tough fight. Some people may have started to overlook Rockhold, first on the basis of how he lost the title and the subsequent inactivity, in addition to all the exciting new talent in the division. That could be a mistake. At 6'3," he is a very rangy middleweight. His BJJ game is deep and he has finished top middleweights with guillotine chokes. But at his height and power, he is also able to employ a kickboxing style that he has been able to wield successfully against top guys at 185 pounds.

With Rockhold, we wonder where his heart is at. This is not a sport that treats moonlighters kindly. Not to imply that Rockhold is not taking this seriously and in his defense, a fight did fall out during this stretch where he's had one fight in 20 months. But he does have a lot of interests, as he seems to planning his exit strategy and branching out a bit. That could be tough when facing guys who are all-in, so to speak. And in Romero, he's facing a fighter who really needs a win and will be hard to stop. After losing to Whittaker, Romero can ill afford another setback at age 40. And after working so hard to get to a high perch, Romero has a lot on the line in this fight.

Romero faces some potential deficits in this match. He uses his wrestling, but is a less-complete fighter than Rockhold. He's more explosive, just not as educated in an MMA sense as Rockhold is. Rockhold also has that size and ranginess he can employ against an aggressive sort like Romero. The Cuban does have the strikes to trouble Rockhold, who hasn't always taken punches that well. Romero and his camp are also probably honing in on Rockhold's inactivity, being that he hasn't been fighting much of late. And when he did, he was getting tagged a lot by Branch, something that would cost him more-dearly in this matchup. Granted, that was a fight where Rockhold was shaking off some rust, but he better be sharper by the time this fight with Romero rolls around. Mistakes against Romero can come at a steep price.

For potential Romero backers, however, it's fair to take into the account the full scope of Rockhold's skills. He really does everything well. He can grapple. He can wrestle. His BJJ is above reproach and he translates it well into his MMA game, as his ten submission wins would attest. His striking is good and he's very long. At first glance, he looks like a light heavyweight. He also has a fighter's spirit and is as game as they come. His cardio makes him a threat throughout an entire five-round fight. And if he gets on top of a guy, he's a big problem.

In terms of weaknesses, Rockhold's chin-availability and inability to absorb a big shot to the chin is a bit concerning, particularly against the likes of Romero. And it's not something that gets better over time. While losing a few fights by KO when taking on the guys Rockhold has fought is no disgrace, he's not terribly resilient when clipped. It's a byproduct of his build, as his head sticks up a little, not helped by how he moves away in straight lines. With his size, versatility, and power, you can't write off Rockhold even a little bit. I see him using his different skills and experience to get the edge against Romero and at an underdog price, I see the value being with Rockhold in this one.

Loot's Pick to Win the Match: I'm betting on Luke Rockhold at +140 betting odds. Did you know... that you could be wagering on UFC Fights at discounted odds? There's a better than good chance that you're laying inflated odds with your book. Stop overpaying TODAY by making the switch to 5Dimes Sportsbook! You will be so glad that you did!

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