Health issues surrounding Georges St. Pierre and a knee injury to Robert Whittaker cleared the way for an interim Ultimate Fighting Championship title bout between Yoel Romero and Luke Rockhold in the UFC 221 headliner on Saturday in Perth, Australia. However, Romero missed weight, and his failure to meet the 185-pound limit means only Rockhold can walk away with the gold. Despite Whittaker’s exit and Romero’s gaffe on the scale, the pay-per-view card has plenty to offer in terms of entertainment value. From the Mark Hunt-Curtis Blaydes heavyweight co-main event to the showdown between light heavyweight prospects Tyson Pedro and Saparbek Safarov, there are more than enough reasons to watch. Here are five of them:
1. Rockhold has a scary task ahead of him.
Nearly two years have passed since Rockhold surrendered the undisputed middleweight championship in a shocking upset loss to Michael Bisping. The 33-year-old Henri Hooft protégé can take another step towards reclaiming the title when he dukes it out with Romero, a 2000 Olympic silver medalist who has become known as one of the sport’s most freakish athletes. Rockhold returned to the cage in September, when he struck former two-division World Series of Fighting champion David Branch into submission. Meanwhile, the 40-year-old Romero has gone 8-1 over his last nine appearances.
2. Knockout power populates the menu.
The pay-per-view lineup features a number of heavy hitters in the heavyweight and light heavyweight divisions, the undefeated Tai Tuivasa among them. The 24-year-old Australian prospect has put away all six of his opponents in the first round, three of them in less than a minute. A highlight-reel finish on Cyril Asker would not surprise anyone.
3. Every fight has the potential to be Hunt’s last.
At age 43, it is no secret that Hunt is nearing the end of his road in mixed martial arts. The “Super Samoan” has spent two decades competing in K-1, Dream, Pride Fighting Championships and the UFC, all while testing himself against some of the greatest fighters of all-time. Hunt gets one of the heavyweight division’s top young talents when he meets Blaydes in the co-headliner, and considering the fact that he could call it a career at any point, their collision becomes must-see TV.
4. Blaydes gets the chance to prove himself as a legitimate contender.
Elevation Fight Team’s Blaydes has a golden opportunity to improve his position in the heavyweight rankings, provided he can defeat the aging Hunt. He enters the cage with an 8-1 record, having lost only to Francis Ngannou. With a win over Hunt, particularly a decisive one, Blaydes could conceivably find himself in a heavyweight title eliminator in the not-too-distant future. Blaydes-Hunt should be mandatory viewing based on those stakes alone.
5. Pedro or Safarov could move quickly in the light heavyweight division.
Pedro and Safarov have been chosen to kick off the main card, an enviable position for two of the light heavyweight division’s most promising talents. Both men have the tools to rise rapidly in the 205-pound weight class, which has lost some of its prestige and depth in recent years. Pedro-Safarov represents a distinct contrast in styles, with Pedro playing the role of submission specialist and Safaraov as the knockout artist.