UFC 221 was a weird event.
It was supposed to feature Australian middleweight champion Robert Whittaker in his home country, but he was forced off the card due to injury. So UFC 221 ended up showcasing two U.S.-based fighters in a half-interim title bout. That’s a little strange.
The fights themselves delivered, though. Here’s ESPN’s take on what should be next for the fighters of UFC 221.
Result: Defeated Luke Rockhold via third-round KO
Next: Robert Whittaker
I wrote about this one in-depth in a postfight column. These two just fought in July (Whittaker won via unanimous decision), and no one expected them to fight again this soon — but the middleweight division plays by its own rules.
Romero’s performance against Rockhold on Saturday suggested he learned from the Whittaker loss, where his cardio became an issue in later rounds. This might not be the sexiest immediate rematch, but it’s warranted and intriguing nonetheless.
Luke Rockhold, middleweight
Result: Lost to Romero via third-round KO
Next: Derek Brunson
Back in June 2016, when Rockhold was the UFC middleweight champion, you could have argued he was one of the top five pound-for-pound fighters in the world. In the time since, he has only fought three times and been knocked out in two of those bouts.
An eventual move to light heavyweight seems likely, but not yet. Rockhold may be in a mini-slump, but he’s still right there in terms of middleweight title contention. Brunson is coming off a loss to Ronaldo Souza, and this is a fun fight stylistically.
Next: Cain Velasquez
Assuming Velasquez is healthy this summer. Blaydes is 26, and looking to cement his status as a legitimate contender. Velasquez is coming off a long period of inactivity, and he’s not challenging for a belt immediately, with Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic fighting this summer.
Mark Hunt, heavyweight
Result: Lost to Blaydes via unanimous decision
Next: Justin Willis
There’s no easy answer for Hunt’s next opponent. He has two fights left on his UFC contract, after which he intends to part ways with the company. He won’t be in title contention for those two fights, having lost two of his last three. His name still draws eyeballs, which should be directed to someone like Willis, a 30-year-old heavyweight fighting out of American Kickboxing Academy.
Result: Defeated Cyril Asker via first-round TKO
Next: Chase Sherman
Who? The dude who chugged beer out of a shoe after his fight at UFC 221. That’s who.
Tuivasa is the talented, carefree 24-year-old this heavyweight division needs. There’s no need to rush him too fast, and Sherman is an appropriate challenge who also has a fun persona away from he cage.
Result: Defeated Rob Wilkinson via second-round TKO
Next: Cezar Ferreira
Get used to this name. Adesanya. The Last Stylebender. He has super star potential, and the UFC needs to build that. Shout this guy’s name from the rooftops, get Dana White talking about him in every interview, book him to a high-profile spot, but don’t rush him either. Ferreira isn’t too much too soon for Adesanya, but he’s a legitimate challenge having won four of his last five.