PERTH, Australia — Yoel Romero beat Luke Rockhold by knockout in the third round of their scheduled middleweight interim title bout Sunday, the main card highlight of UFC 221 at the Perth Arena.
But Cuba’s Romero was ineligible to claim the interim title when he missed the weight at Friday’s weigh-ins. He was 2 pounds (0.9 kilograms) over at his first attempt and still 1.7 pounds (0.77kg) over the 186 pound (84kg) limit at his second.
Rockhold would have taken the title with a win Sunday and seemed to have it in his grasp until Romero demonstrated all of his explosive punching power, opening his rival up with a left hook and following with an overhand left which sent Rockhold to the canvas and a final uppercut.
The title bout had been troublesome from the outset. Australian Robert Whittaker originally was to defend his maiden UFC title against Rockhold but was forced to withdraw with an illness.
He contracted chicken pox while recovering from a staph infection and withdrew from the bout in January. The 40-year-old Romero, who won a gold medal in wrestling at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, stepped into the fight at short notice.
He is now the top-ranked challenger for the middleweight title and could fight Whittaker as early as June, injury permitting. Romero limped from the ring Sunday with what appeared to be a leg injury.
"It seems to make intuitive sense — the No.1 and No.2 competing," UFC senior vice-president David Shaw said. "If it were not for the mess up on the weight, (Romero) would have had the interim belt.
"Rob can’t fight for a few months. So there’s a bit of time to figure out what’s going to happen in the weight division."
Rising heavyweight Curtis Blaydes made good use of his wrestling skills to outpoint fifth-ranked Mark Hunt 30-26, 30-26, 29-27.
But the 26-year-old American, who improved his record to 9-1, left the cage to booing from a crowd frustrated at his negative style.
Hunt, fighting for the first time since beating Derrick Lewis in Auckland eight months ago, rocked the ninth-ranked Blaydes with some heavy punches early but Blaydes tired the New Zealander with a series of 10 takedowns for the biggest win of his career.
The loss is a major setback to Hunt in his farewell tour in the UFC. He has only two fights left on his contract and now seems unlikely to be awarded a late title shot at the end of a long and successful career.
Australian heavyweight Tai Tuivasa unleashed a powerful barrage of punches to beat France’s Cyril Asker by TKO in the first round, improving his record to 9-0.
On a good night for Australians, Tyson Pedro beat Russia’s Saparbek Safarov by submission in the first round of their light-heavyweight bout which began the main card. Jake Matthews made it two for two for home fighters with a unanimous points win over China’s Li Jingliang in a welterweight bout.
Judges scored the bout 29-28, 30-26, 30-26.