UFC 221 Top 3 Performances

Romero vs Rockhold

Ranking the Top 3 Performances From UFC 221

Wow, what a card. Every single time we agree a pay-per view card isn’t worth the $65 they charge us, it exceeds our initial expectations. And at UFC 221, that was no different. All throughout the night, fighters put their health on the line for our enjoyment and it yielded some fascinating results. Brutal finishes, exciting back and forth brawls and newly recognized contenders came out of the woodwork for this one. The least I can do is simply shed a light on these tremendous performances we bore witness to. Now, this one was tough to do. There were several notable fighters I could mention however, i’m forcing myself to nail down the top 3 performances from the night (plus an honorable mention).

So, who earned those accolades? Let’s dive in….

Honorable Mention: Tai Tuivasa

I couldn’t possibly have a list of the top performances from UFC 221 without “Bam Bam” making the cut.

But because of the numerous fighters who were deserving, I had to relegate him to the honorable mentions category. Still, i’m typically unbent in my belief that i’ve got to stick to the core three, so the fact that he convinced me otherwise says a lot about what I thought of his fight. Cyril Asker isn’t a world-beater by any stretch of the imagination. But he is a tough member of the UFC’s heavyweight division, so to watch Tuivasa blow through him was impressive to say the least.

I saw it in his debut and he displayed once more here; Tai’s clean and patient technique when his opponent is on the ropes exceeds many of the heavyweights we see compete week in and week out. It’s a skill few possess, but all need. That composure and intelligence to pick shots in that setting separate great fighters from the basic.

I cannot wait to see what he’s got coming to him next. The heavyweight division, as we all know, is very top-heavy and in desperate need of new faces at the top. A win at UFC 221 may just mean “Bam Bam” is the next big thing.

Next Fight: Tai Tuivasa vs Chase Sherman

#3 Israel Adesanya

Coming into UFC 221 last night, Israel Adesanya was by far the most anticipated fighter on the card.

His resume beyond his newest promotion had captured the audience’s attention before making his first trip to the octagon, making his debut a must watch. And he surely did not disappoint. It was a struggle early on. The first round played out the way many believed it may. Wilkinson pursued the takedown throughout the round and landed a couple, though they were short lived. However, the second wasn’t as kind to “Razor” Rob, as Adesanya began to take over.

His distance control was fantastic, forcing Wilkinson to fight his way in, to no avail. And about mid-way through the second, we saw the “Stylebender” we all love. Careful deliberation led to sharp hooks to the body, a healthy diet of knees and some hard straights that pierced his wounded foe’s guard. From there, it was only a matter of time. Credit to Rob for suffering through the amount of punishment he did. But he succumbed relatively quickly.

I found it impossible that “Stylebender” had made a more impressive debut than originally anticipated. Yet he did. We saw Adesanya’s solid takedown defense and composure that allowed him to fight out of bad spots and continue to press the action. The finish was clean, but the overall body of work he exhibited trumped any knockout he could have delivered. The dude is for real.

What’s Next?

Listen, I think Israel Adesanya can contend right now. I do.

However, we can’t throw him to the wolves just yet. That’s not how this thing is set up to run. Let’s give him some time to breath in the division and collect his thoughts. While he’s doing that, keep him active with some middle of the road middleweights that will allow him to show off the skill that got him here. Not wrestling heavy strong-men. Some average strikers will do.

Who fits that mold?

Let’s say Ryan Janes. Coming off a win over Andrew Sanchez, Janes deserves a bigger fight. This is that bigger fight. And for Adesanya, it’s perfect. Just a face on a body, nothing particularly special. Is it a bit of a vanilla match-up? Yeah sort of. But with Adesanya, no fight will be boring for long. Build him up, so he can tear down the middleweight division for our amusement.

#2 Alexander Volkanovski

This has been a topic of discussion for several weeks in a row now. The topic of dominant, top-heavy grapplers who refuse to let their opponents breathe underneath them. They come in different forms. Some boring, some violent.

Alexander Volkanovski surely falls into the latter of the two.

Coming into UFC 221 his opponent, Jeremy Kennedy, proclaimed that he had the best grappling in the entirety of the division. Well, that was proven quite wrong last night. Volkanovski rag dolled him in the first and landed ferocious ground in pound in the name of Australia. It was more of the same in the second and the referee had no choice but to stop it before things could take a turn for the dangerous.

Heavy top pressure kept Kennedy squarely underneath his predator and sharp elbows opened him up to boot. Volkanovski then forced him to give his back where the choke revealed itself. But he wasn’t interested in taking the neck. Volkanovski wanted to make a statement. Several hard shots on top later and the statement was made.

The featherweight division has been put on notice. There’s a new monster in town.

What’s Next?

An interesting name came up in his post-fight interview at UFC 221.

Andre Fili was the recipient of a call-out by Volkanovski and I for one am all the way down. Fili is a tremendous fighter, don’t get it twisted. He just defeated Dennis Bermudez to capture his first UFC win streak, good on him. But the UFC has given him a push for really no other reason than he’s an exciting fighter to watch. It makes sense, but it’s not particularly warranted.

I mention this because I feel like the promotion may be disinterested in Volkanovski x Fili because it’s not a particularly sexy match-up. They’d rather put him against an action-packed striker and throw it at the top of a fight night card. But if they wanted to do something right, they’d make this fight.

Alex Volkanovski deserves a big stage. He got it to an extent last night. But now, he’s earned more. Give him a name like Andre Fili and I guarantee he smashes him on his way to the top-15. Mark my words. This dude is coming.

Next Fight: Alex Volkanovski vs Andre Fili

#1 Yoel Romero

There’s really no other name you could put on top of the list of top performances from UFC 221.

He looked very good against one of the best middleweights on planet earth and has deserved the recognition he’s getting. The first round was a bit of a feeling out process. Romero threw very little and was, for all intents and purposes, neutralized in the early going.

But round 2 was a far different story. He sprinted out of the gate early, pressuring and swarming Rockhold against the fence before settling back into a familiar rhythm. The leg kicks from Luke took a toll on the Cuban but he was not to be denied. He took round 2 and had it tied up headed towards the third.

But the judges wouldn’t be needed.

What started out being yet another tame round from the two quickly devolved into one of the most violent exchanges I have ever seen. See for yourself…..

The left hand landed flush over the always low right of Rockhold and dropped the former champ. Then that following uppercut sent shivers down my spine. It was brutal to say the least and if anyone forgot about the power Yoel Romero possesses, they surely were reminded in that moment. The win marked another big accomplishment in his career. But what’s next could put a stamp on his legacy.

What’s Next?

It was an incredible night to say the least for Yoel Romero. Unfortunately, I feel the missed weight debacle took away from the performance a bit, as well it should. Nevertheless, it was an outstanding win.

As for what’s next, it’s very clear. Despite not being eligible to win the title, it really doesn’t matter. The interim title was for the casuals to latch onto anyways. The ultimate prize this fight offered was the chance to fight Robert Whittaker for the undisputed title. And though Romero missed weight and put a smudge on his resume, as he seems to do often, he will fight for the title next.

It’s a rematch of a bout we saw not long ago. But one we must see again.

In the first fight, we saw two calculated combatants with a clear gameplan and cautious outlooks. As a result, the contest wasn’t quite as high-action as many of us wanted it to be. But with that under their belts, perhaps we’ll see a looser, more open version of that fight.

It will be a must-watch when it eventually comes around. So keep your eyes peeled for a date.

Next Fight: Yoel Romero vs Robert Whittaker 

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