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Reasons To Watch UFC 221


Unlike other countries where it is still getting a foothold in the cultural consciousness, MMA is by far and away the most popular combat sport down under, and one of the nation's most popular overall. An early version of MMA called "All-in,” borne of jiu-jitsu demonstrations, was popular nationwide even before the 1920s.

The Aussie love for fighting alone would be grounds enough for a major Pay-Per-View by the biggest MMA promotion in the world, but as it turns out, the case for the UFC to go down under is much deeper.

Here are the reasons to watch UFC 221: Rockhold vs Romero.

A Living Legend in Action

<a href='../fighter/mark-hunt'>Mark Hunt</a> punches <a href='../fighter/Derrick-Lewis'>Derrick Lewis</a> during the <a href='../event/UFC-Silva-vs-Irvin'>UFC Fight Night </a>event in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC) Veteran Mark Hunt is fighting in the co-main event, and to hear him tell it, it may be one of his last three fights.

At 43, he's already been in the game longer than most would dare to dream, beating the likes of Wanderlei Silva and Mirko Filipovic back in their PRIDE heyday, and still bringing enough to the Octagon in 2018 to be the UFC's fifth ranked heavyweight.

Even his opponent, No. 9 ranked Curtis Blaydes, is humbled by the chance to face "Super Samoan", likening Hunt's tenure in MMA to that of NBA legends like Michael Jordan or Charles Barkley.

“I can already see it now, me slipping an uppercut and in my head thinking, ‘Oh my God, I just slipped Mark Hunt’s uppercut.’" Blaydes recently told MMAjunkie, explaining that a match with Hunt feels like an acknowledgment of his own skills.

Hunt has named Francis Ngannou, Stipe Miocic and Fabricio Werdum as opponents he'd like to face before he calls it a day. But first comes Blaydes on Pay-Per-View in Kiwi-friendly Perth. If 2018 is truly the last year we get to see him fight (and fight at a high level, no less), let's all cherish it and just enjoy the ride.

Hunger and revenge in the middleweight division

When Robert Whittaker was ruled medically ineligible to participate in the original main event of UFC 221, it was a blow not only to the Aussie fans who were amped to see their first Australia-based UFC champ defend his strap, but also to Luke Rockhold who has been literally aching to reclaim the belt since Michael Bisping dealt him one of the biggest upsets in UFC history.

Similarly stinging from his own recent defeat (against Whittaker, no less) No. 1 contender Yoel Romero was not only a logical replacement, but one that makes for an excellent main event matchup.

Fighting for the interim belt and the next shot at Whittaker, Rockhold and Romero are a yin and yang of wrestling and striking power. While Romero holds the edge on the ground and Rockhold on the feet, neither are to be underestimated in either aspect of the game. In particular, six of Romero's last eight wins came by KO.

With George St-Pierre vacating the middleweight belt just a month after winning it, Rockhold and Romero know their ultimate goal is closer than ever, and only one of them will come away with a shot at being undisputed. Expect that hunger to be reflected in their performances for this one.

RELATED: UFC 221 Countdown |  Jimmy Smith Previews Hunt vs Blaydes

Introducing The Stylebender

One of the newest additions to the UFC roster arrives with some well-earned hype. The Nigerian-born Israel Adesanya has 11 knockouts in his professional career...in just 11 fights.

Fighting out of New Zealand, Adesanya learned to fight out of the practical need to defend himself. A self-described runt in his youth, he says he was bullied mercilessly, and while he didn't ever envision becoming a fighter, his skills in the cage were too natural to be ignored.

And just like he had to earn the respect of those bullies, Adesanya will have to earn the respect of UFC audiences who care little for hype. His promotion debut comes against Rob Wilkinson in the Perth prelims. Wilkinson carries with him an 11-1 professional record and a penchant for finishing fights, to say nothing of his homeland advantage.

But having recently cornered gym-mate and countryman Dan Hooker at UFC 219, Adesanya doesn't sound worried. Speaking to the NZ Herald, he says of the experience "...I made the walk behind him and realized I've done this before…this is just another show – different cage, same energy."

Aussies, Aussies everywhere.

The UFC's Australian roster is as menacing and formidable as nearly any other country's, and a huge sampling of that roster will be on display in Perth. Aside from the aforementioned Rob Wilkinson, Tai Tuivasa brings his undefeated record back to the Octagon following a thrilling flying-knee KO of Rashad Coulter back in November. Jake "The Celtic Kid" Matthews gets his second consecutive homeland bout following his November win at Fight Night Sydney. Known to make the Octagon walk to Mariah Carey, hot light heavyweight prospect Tyson Pedro looks to avenge the only loss of his career when he faces Saparbek Safarov to kick off the Perth main card. Damien "Beatdown" Brown will look to end the winning streak of the "Maestro" Dong Hyun Kim. And finally, Alexander Volkanovski, who hasn't lost a bout since 2013, will take on undefeated Canadian Jeremy Kennedy during the FS1 prelims.

Laughing and carrying on at UFC 221 media day, the Aussie fighters displayed a comradery and kinship that was visibly deeper than merely being born in the same region.

Tai Tuivasa, in particular, has spoken frequently of what he calls the ‘Poly Takeover’, where Polynesian athletes of all sports, particularly MMA, are making their name, despite their relatively small proportion to the world population. “It’s real” he told me, reminding everyone that “Max Holloway, Mark Hunt and Robert Whittaker” fall under that category.
For the non-believers, these fighters relish the chance to show what they mean this Saturday night.

Steve Latrell is a digital producer and writer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TheUFSteve

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