UFC 221 Preview With Odds, Picks, and Analysis

by Duane Murray
on February 8, 2018

The UFC 221 is this weekend in Perth, Australia and there were some surprises along the way. After George St Pierre vacated the middleweight belt, Luke Rockhold was supposed to fight Robert Whittaker. Unfortunately, he got injured and Yoel Romero got the chance to win the interim title in the main event of the night.

It’s an interesting turn of events and adds some element of surprise to UFC 221. There are other intriguing fights across the board and possibly opportunities to make some money. I will take a closer look at the betting odds on the main event, as well as some other contests where I believe there is some good value.

Yoel Romero +120 vs Luke Rockhold -149

Luke Rockhold had the feeling he was at the top of the world about two years ago, when he TKO-ed Chris Weidman to win the middleweight belt. However, Michael Bisping took it away from him and Rockhold has been determined to get the title back ever since.

He was supposed to get his chance in UFC 221, but Robert Whittaker got injured. As a result, Rockhold will face Yoel Romero for the interim title instead. Despite the surprise call, the indications are that Romero has been training hard, so he won’t be out of shape.

Rockhold is a slight favorite in this fight. The Bisping loss is his only one since 2013 and it’s plausible to believe he underestimated his opponent to an extent. I don’t see this happening now, so the 33-year-old will be at his best.

It’s interesting to note that Rockhold has switched his camp to prepare better for a top wrestler like Romero. He already has a good ground game and is the more well-rounded fighter. The expectations are that the former champ will try to tire his opponent and beat him in the later rounds.

It would be a smart strategy, as Romero is extremely explosive, but seems to gas out. At the age of 40, this is hardly a surprise. Still, his only loss since 2011 is against Robert Whittaker and there is no shame in that. The Cuban will rely on aggression early on, as this is his best chance to win.

I believe Rockhold will be more than prepared, though. He is in his prime and will be eager to correct the Bisping mistake. If he plays it smart, I can see Rockhold finishing Romero in the 3rd round or so. The price of 1.67 is hardly exceptional, but I feel it has enough value.

Pick: Luke Rockhold to win @ -149

Mark Hunt +135 vs Curtis Blaydes -149

This fight is also part of the main card of UFC 221 and is curious, to say the least. Mark Hund is a legend and despite his age of 43, he is still going strong. There was a bit of controversy with the UFC management recently, but the Super Samoan has been cleared for this fight.

He will face Curtis Blaydes who is considered as one of the solid young heavyweight fighters out there. The American has a strong record and his only defeat was against Francis Ngannou. To be honest, the Cameroonian is such a beast that I don’t see this loss as a big deal.

According to the odds, Blaydes is the favorite in this fight. The main reason for that is the difference in age. The American is on the rise while Mark Hunt is at the end of his career. Despite his background in wrestling, Blaydes has finished the majority of his fights with punches. We all know how Mark Hunt can hit, so we are probably in for a fierce exchange from the very start.

In fact, the Super Samoan has stopped many hot prospects with a knockout in the past. His explosive power can do the same against Blaydes, who’s barely faced an opponent of such a caliber so far in his career.

I believe this will be one of the most entertaining fights of the whole night and we’re in for a treat. There will be some hard punches flying around as soon those two enter the cage. Under such circumstances, I believe Mark Hunt has a very solid chance of upsetting the younger man. Considering the price of +135, this is where the value lies.

Pick: Mark Hunt to win @ +135

Tyson Pedro -278 vs Saparbek Safarov +220

After local hero Robert Whittaker retired, Tyson Pedro is the biggest Australian star in UFC 221. It’s only appropriate that he is the one to start the main card of the night. His opponent is 31-year-old Russian Saparbek Safarov who’s having only his second UFC fight in the light heavyweight division. At first glance, this bout is designed for Pedro to win and build some hype around him.

The Aussie won his first 6 fights with a finish and UFC sees him as a potential future superstar and a big draw to the Australian audience. However, he suffered a defeat last time around when Ilir Latifi beat him at UFC 215.

Dana White and the organization would love to see Pedro reach his potential. The first step in this directing is bouncing back with a win in front of the Australian crowd. This is why many believe the Russian Saparbek Safarov has no chance and the odds kinda reflect that. Let’s take a closer look at both fighters and see if that’s really the case.

I will start with the favorite. He is certainly the more versatile contender and has a lot to show both on the ground and on his feet. A quick look at Pedro’s previous fights shows he’s capable of knocking out an opponent with punches, but also stopping him with a submission.

The rear-naked choke seems to be his favorite and he already won 3 fights using this technique. The overall impression is that Tyson Pedro has all the attributes to become a star.

This is not the case with Saparbek Safarov. The Russian had eight wins in a row before signing with the UFC.  He won all with a knockout and only one bout went to the second round. This is a sign of a fighter with a solid stand-up game and punching power.

However, the quality of the opposition was questionable, to say the least. Safarov lost his first UFC fight after getting knocked out by Gian Villante in the second round. It was a wild contest that won the “Fight of the Night” award, but the Russian looked really raw. This was back in December 2016 and Safarov hasn’t fought since.

The big question for me is if he has learned from the experience. Tyson Pedro will be trying to take him down and beat him on the ground. If Safarov doesn’t stay calm and try to control the distance with his jab, he will certainly lose. If he does approach the fight with a cool head, he has the power to upset the local favorite.

I think the Russian is underrated here and the odds of +220 are worth a tiny bet. They suggest a probability of under 33%, while I would rate them at around the 35% mark.

Pick: Safarbek Safarov to win @ +220

What About The Rest Of UFC 221?

There are some interesting fights out there, but I don’t see many opportunities to make money. You should probably take a closer look at one of the games in the undercard, where Ben Nguyen is priced +110 to beat Jussier Formiga. Still, I’m not confident enough the value is there for the taking.

Good luck with your bets and let’s hope we see a lot of action and a solid UFC event. It will certainly boost the popularity of the sport in Australia and possibly bring more local fighters to the organization in the future.

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