The second UFC pay-per-view of the year took place in Perth, and 40-year-old Yoel Romero lay waste to former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold with a stunning third round knockout.
UFC 221 was the organisation’s first ever show in Perth and the fight card featured no shortage of local Australian talent.
Despite the event starting at 7:30 am local time, over 12,000 turned up to the Perth Arena for what was an incredible morning of fights.
Here’s what we learned from the event down under.
1. Romero defies time and leg break
Most fighters at 40 have long seen their better days, but seemingly not Yoel Romero.
The Cuban missed weight on Friday by 2.7-pounds and ruled himself out of contention of winning the interim UFC middleweight title, but his performance over Rockhold was incredible given his age.
Romero’s ability to close distance on his opponents with amazing speed has won him plenty of fights in the past and last night it also proved to Rockhold’s undoing.
The Cuban wasn’t having a good time at range dealing with Rockhold’s kicks, but 1:30 into round three he charged forward and landed a huge right hand to send the American to the mat.
Romero then followed up with an uppercut and Rockhold was unconscious in what was an incredible end to the fight.
Speaking for a short time on the Fox Sports 1 broadcast after the fight, Romero said that he’d broken his leg in round one and he was quickly rushed off to hospital. Amazing.
2. Is this the end for Rockhold?
It seems crazy to even contemplate Luke Rockhold’s MMA career being over after this latest defeat, but it’s not as far fetched as you might think.
Rockhold won the UFC middleweight title back in December 2015, but has struggled since then to put a meaningful run together.
A loss to Michael Bisping at UFC 199 saw him lose his title and he then sat on the sidelines for an extended period of time unhappy with what the UFC were offering him.
A return win against David Branch briefly got him back on track at the end of last year, but this loss to Romero sets him back a lot and he will have to put the hard yards in to get back into title contention.
Whether or not that’s something he’s prepared to do is another thing altogether. Rockhold has been linked with a big money modelling contract with Ralph Lauren and will no doubt be getting paid a lot more for that than he does getting punched in the face. Rockhold is at a big crossroads.
3. Blaydes a big player at heavyweight
Curtis Blaydes picked up the biggest win of his career with a victory over the #5 ranked heavyweight in the world, Mark Hunt.
Blaydes has to survive a scary moment early on when Hunt landed a huge right hand, but he weathered the early storm well and changed up the fight by taking it to the mat where he smothered Hunt for the entire three rounds.
The American’s grappling based attack didn’t win him many fans in Perth, but the win puts him in a good position in the division and he could be lining himself up for another big fight later this year to get himself into title contention.
A showdown with a returning Cain Velasquez would likely be too much, too soon, but don’t rule it out given the shallow talent pool in the UFC’s heavyweight division.
4. Success for Aussies on home soil
The main card featured three Australian fighter looking to make their mark and all three of them seized the opportunity.
Tyson Pedro bounced back from a loss to Ilir Latifi last year with an impressive submission win over Saparbek Safarov in the main card opener. Jake Matthews then followed that up shortly after with an impressive decision win over Li Jingliang to keep the ball rolling for the Aussies.
Heavyweight Tai Tuivasa then made it a main card hat trick with a dominant first round TKO win over French heavyweight, Cyril Asker.
Elsewhere, Alexander Volkanovski also got the home crowd on their feet with a second round TKO win over Jeremy Kennedy.
5. Pearson back in business
Ross Pearson could be coming into the final few years of his career, but at least for the minute he appears to have kept his place on the UFC roster.
The Sunderland-born man walked into the fight riding a four fight losing streak and was no doubt lucky to still be in the organization given others on the roster had been cut for only two losses.
Pearson, who now lives in Australian, had the backing of the crowd from the start and they spurred him onto victory as he and his opponent Mizuto Hirota trade blow-for-blow on the feet in what was a fight totally contested in the stand up department.
Hirota had Pearson in trouble with a right hand at the end of round two, but that aside Pearson seemed to get the better of the Japanese fighter in almost every exchange and he went on to win the fight on the scorecards 30-27, 30-27, 29-28.
It was a big win for Pearson who has been competing in the UFC since 2009.