After a successful trip overseas the UFC returns stateside with a midweek fight night card. The card is headlined by former StrikeForce Middleweight Champion Luke Rockhold and top ten fighter Costa Philippou. Rounding out the main card are bouts between Brad Tavares and Lorenz Larkin, TJ Dillashaw and Mike Easton, Yoel Romero and Derek Brunson, John Moraga and Dustin Ortiz, and finally a featherweight bout between Cole Miller and Sam Sicilia. Want to know who will be walking away with a victory this Wednesday night? Here are our predictions for UFC Fight Night 35’s main card.
Middleweight Bout: #6 Luke Rockhold (10-2) vs. #10 Costa Philippou (12-3, 1 No Contest)
Breakdown: In UFC Fight Night 35’s main event both Luke Rockhold and Costa Philippou will be looking to rebound from disappointing losses. Rockhold last entered the Octagon in May of 2013 where he was knocked out by a Vitor Belfort spinning back kick. Even though Rockhold was put out in the first round I saw a lot of good things from the former StrikeForce Champ. Philippou’s primary threat is his boxing which Rockhold was largely able to avoid against Belfort. Belfort has the fastest hands in the middleweight division and was only to land cleanly on Rockhold when Rockhold put his back against the cage. If Rockhold can stay off the cage he should be able to neutralize Philippou’s primary offense.
Before Rockhold entered the UFC he was the cream of the crop in StrikeForce. Rockhold’s last StrikeForce title defense against Tim Kennedy gave fight fans a glimpse into how well rounded he is. Rockhold was able to hold his own against a very good grappler in Kennedy and had a sizable advantage in the striking department. While Rockhold only has two knockout wins in his career, the power in his striking has been steadily improving. In his bout with Keith Jardine, Rockhold was able to rock the former UFC standout multiple times before brutally finishing Jardine against the cage with punches.
Rockhold can hold his own on the feet against Philippou but his bread and butter is his ground game. Rockhold has six wins in his MMA career via submission and is a two time International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation champion. If Rockhold can push Philippou against the cage and get the takedown from there then he should win this fight handily.
Opposing Rockhold this Wednesday will be Long Island, New York’s Costa Philippou. Philippou is 5-2 in his UFC career and has shown some of the most powerful boxing in the division. Philippou’s last victory came against Tim Boetsch where he initially struggled with the forward movement of Boetsch but was able to counter with his boxing before finishing the Barbarian with strikes in the third round. The win over Boetsch is by far the biggest win of Philippou’s career but his most impressive performance came in 2011 against Jared Hamman. Philippou floored Hamman multiple times with heavy punches in the bout before turning out his opponent’s lights inside the first round. If the Philippou who was able to finish Boetsch and Hamman shows up then Rockhold may be looking up at the lights when it is all said and done.
While Philippou has the power to put Rockhold out, his last outing was cause for concern. Philippou was outclassed in his last bout against touted prospect Francis Carmont. After posting some of the best takedown defense numbers in the history of the middleweight division, Philippou defended a grand total of zero takedowns against Carmont. If Philippou comes out the same way he did against Carmont then he won’t walk out of the cage with a victory come Wednesday.
Prediction: There have been a lot of questions regarding how sturdy Rockhold’s chin is but I don’t think it will be an issue in this bout. Philippou has had one bout since leaving Team Serra-Longo and the results were not promising. When you add up Philippou’s difficulty with defending takedowns in his last fight and the prowess of Rockhold’s grappling it doesn’t look good for the New Yorker. This fight is Rockhold’s to lose. My prediction is for Luke Rockhold to defeat Costa Philippou by submission in the third round.
Middleweight Bout: #13 Lorenz Larkin (14-1, 1 NC) vs. Brad Tavares (11-1)
Breakdown: Lorenz Larkin and Brad Tavares will look to start their 2014 campaigns with a bang as they meet in a bout that will crown the breakout middleweight of 2014. We last saw Larkin back in November taking home a unanimous decision victory over Chris Camozzi. Larkin looked great in that bout tagging Camozzi with hard punches, kicks, and elbows. One thing of concern was Camozzi’s ability to hit Larkin with leg kicks. Against a striker like Tavares, Larkin must be much more conscious of the leg kicks. In his UFC debut Larkin was robbed by the judges losing a unanimous decision to Francis Carmont. Carmont had almost no success with his takedowns in the first two rounds, was clearly outstruck, yet somehow was given the decision. If Larkin can initiate the offense against Tavares then he should walk away with a victory.
Brad Tavares is currently riding a four fight win streak and is looking to catapult himself into the top ten. Tavares’ last bout with Bubba McDaniel was not the best performance of his four fight winning streak but he still looked very solid. For the first two rounds Tavares was the faster and better striker than the TUF 17 alumni. Tavares slowed in the third round of the bout which allowed McDaniel to rock him and dominate the round in the grappling department. Tavares needs to improve his cardio if he wants to beat Larkin. One of Tavares’ most underrated skills is his wrestling which was on display against former Arizona State Wrestler Aaron Simpson. Simpson was able to push Tavares against the cage but was unable to complete many of his takedown attempts. Also in the Simpson bout Tavares put his offensive wrestling on display when he picked up and slammed Simpson in the second round. Tavares tends to stay away from his grappling but it will be one of his keys to victory against Larkin.
Prediction: This is easily the fight I’m most excited for on the entire card. These guys are so evenly matched it’s hard to pick a winner but I’m leaning towards Larkin. Tavares will probably go for the takedown after trying to strike with Larkin and realizing that Larkin is on another level in the stand-up department. Tavares won’t be able to land the takedown which will lead to him being picked apart by Larkin. My prediction is for Lorenz Larkin to defeat Brad Tavares by decision.
Bantamweight Bout: #6 TJ Dillashaw (8-2) vs. #7 Mike Easton (13-3)
Breakdown: Both TJ Dillashaw and Mike Easton will look to get their careers back on track when they meet this Wednesday. TJ Dillashaw was last seen in a very close loss against Raphael Assuncao. Even in a losing effort Dillashaw impressed many against Assuncao. Dillashaw made his MMA debut in 2010 while Assuncao had been fighting for nearly ten years had no advantage over the young fighter. Dillashaw was clearly the superior grappler and nearly submitted Assuncao in the first round. Dillashaw traded blow for blow with Assuncao but ultimately lost a split-decision that many felt he won. If Dillashaw makes some minor adjustments from his fight with Assuncao then he should be able to pick up a victory over Mike Easton.
Mike Easton was one of the UFC’s most exciting prospects after he burst into the promotion with wins over Byron Bloodworth, Jared Papazian, and Ivan Menjivar. Easton has fallen on tough times since that three fight winning streak having gone 0-2 inside the Octagon. Easton is at his best when he’s able to bully his opponents and take charge of the offense. Against Raphael Assuncao, Easton was never able to get going on offense and was outworked by the Brazilian. If Easton can take the fight to Dillashaw then he has a great chance at knocking out the Team Alpha Male member.
Prediction: Easton will continue to be a highly entertaining fighter in the UFC but it’s Dillashaw’s time to become a star. Look for Dillashaw to implement his superior wrestling en-route to a victory. My prediction is for TJ Dillashaw to defeat Mike Easton by decision.
Middleweight Bout: Yoel Romero (6-1) vs. Derek Brunson (11-2)
Breakdown: Yoel Romero will look to make it three straight knockouts in the UFC when he takes on 11-2 Derek Brunson. Romero has looked nothing short of amazing since dropping to 185 pounds. In his UFC debut, Romero laid out Clifford Starks in 1:32 with a spectacular flying knee. Romero followed that up with an even more impressive performance knocking out middleweight standout Ronny Markes in the third round. If Romero is going to beat a good wrestler like Brunson he has to stay upright. If he can avoid the takedown and keep the fight at distance it’s his to take.
After losing two straight bouts, Derek Brunson made his UFC debut defeating the corpse of Chris Leben by unanimous decision. Brunson utilized his solid wrestling to keep Leben on his back and won the fight with relative ease. His sophomore effort in the UFC was much more impressive. Brunson faced off with prospect Brian Houston at UFC Fight Night 31 and choked his opponent out in just 48 seconds. Houston came out looking for the homerun but was met by a Brunson high kick that dropped him. Brunson quickly capitalized on the opening and locked in a rear naked choke to seal the deal. Romero has been knocked out in his career so Brunson can definitely land something hard to put him out but Brunson’s best bet is to keep this fight in the clinch and on the mat. Still, Brunson is going up against a former Olympic silver medalist in wrestling which makes his task that much harder.
Prediction: Brunson has the ability to make this fight a grind but Romero will be too much for him. We’ve seen Brunson get knocked out by Jacare who doesn’t punch nearly as hard as Romero. Look for “The Soldier of God” to add another one to his highlight reel. My prediction is for Yoel Romero to defeat Derek Brunson by Knockout.
Flyweight Bout: #4 John Moraga (13-2) vs. #15 Dustin Ortiz (12-2)
Breakdown: After a failed title bid, John Moraga will look to prove that his early UFC success was no fluke. Moraga burst onto the UFC scene with back to back wins over Ulysses Gomez and Chris Cariaso. Moraga’s win over Gomez was particularly impressive as he knocked out one of the consensus top ten flyweights in under a round. He had a much harder time with Cariaso but was able to avoid a judge’s decision submitting his opponent in the third round with a modified guillotine choke. Moraga is an all around solid fighter but struggles when his opponent’s are much quicker than him which was the case against Demetrious Johnson. The loss to Johnson is not bad in hindsight as he has become one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
Moraga’s opponent Dustin Ortiz brings an impressive 12-2 record into the fight with his only losses being to Ian McCall and Josh Robinson. Ortiz displayed heart in his UFC debut as he was likely down two rounds to nothing against Jose Maria before rallying back in the third round to defeat the Brazilian by TKO. Against Moraga, Ortiz will have to be much quicker to the punch and takedown than his opponent. If Ortiz can gain top position on Moraga he should be able to pull off the victory.
Prediction: Moraga will probably never be champion but he can beat anyone in the division not named Demetrious Johnson. Look for Moraga to be the all-around better fighter come Wednesday. My Prediction is for John Moraga to defeat Dustin Ortiz by decision.
Featherweight Bout: Cole Miller (20-8) vs. Sam Sicilia (12-3)
Breakdown: In a battle 0f Ultimate Fighter Veterans, Cole Miller and Sam Sicilia will look to take the next step toward contendership. Cole Miller has been fighting in the UFC since 2007 but has never been thought of as a true threat. After a largely successful run at lightweight, Miller returned to featherweight in 2012 to mixed results. A win against Sicilia will help Miller find the consistency he desperately needs. If Miller wants to beat Sicilia he has to avoid the standup game at all cost. Miller can hold his own on the feet against Sicilia but his opponent’s knockout power can change the fight instantly. If Miller can get the fight to the mat then he will cruise to an easy victory.
The Ultimate Fighter Live’s Sam Sicilia saved his UFC career in his last bout with a first round TKO over Godofredo Pepey. Sicilia is one of the most dangerous fighters at 145 as he holds some of the heaviest hands in the division. If Sicilia wants to win this fight he has to get past the reach of Miller and connect with one of his big haymakers. Miller’s chin is far from bad but Sicilia can definitely crack it.
Prediction: Sam Sicilia is at his best when the fight is on the feet. Unfortunatley for him, Miller won’t keep it there that long. Look for Miller to tie Sicilia up quickly and take him to the mat. This should be an easy day at the office for Miller. My Prediction is for Cole Miller to defeat Sam Sicilia by submission.