UFC Fight Night 35... not sure what to think of it with my initial thoughts. While the main event of Luke Rockhold and Costa Philippou is a good match up that should produce good results it feels like it would be better suited for a co-main event. Both are coming off of loses and neither had an inspiring performance in those loses. So what is the co-main event? Lorenz Larkin and Brad Tavares whom most casual fans don't know. This one is not a bad match either... but co-main event? It is what it is.
Now that I've got that out of the way, I have rarely walked away from a fight card (not just UFC) without something that satiated my appetite for violence and expect this one to do the same. I'm sure Rockhold and Philippou will be a fun fight as neither can be considered boring and the same can be said for Tavares and Larkin. TJ Dillashaw and Mike Easton will have some impact in the bantamweight rankings and Yoel Romero is thought to be a sleeper in the middleweight division by many. And just because the rest of the card is littered with fighters only hardcore fans are familiar with doesn't mean they can't put on a fun fight.
Down to business:
#6 Luke Rockhold (10-2) vs. #10 Costa Philippou (12-3), Middleweight
Entering last year, both were thought to be dark horses to be contenders for the title. Then both fell in devastating fashion; Rockhold had his head detached by Vitor Belfort and Philippou fell to Francis Carmont via boring lay and prey. This fight has a now-or-never feel to it for these two if they want to be serious contenders.
Rockhold has no major weaknesses. He has a very diverse striking game highlighted by a variety of effective kicks from leg kicks, spinning back kicks, head kicks, liver kicks... lots of kicks. He knows how to effectively use his 6'3 frame to his advantage by keeping his opponent just out of their range but within his. He is always coming forward too which usually favors him in judges scorecards. His ability to effectively switch stances and equal power in both hands make it difficult to really find a chink in his armor. True, he lost to Belfort standing, but Belfort has unnatural explosiveness that can't be reproduced. Philippou might not have Belfort's speed, but he is possibly the most technical boxer in the division. He has a beautiful upper cut and heavy hands and is very capable of closing the distance which he will need to do with Rockhold. But his takedown defense (as shown against Carmont) leaves a lot to be desired. Carmont isn't exactly a vaunted wrestler and he had his way with Philippou. So how is Rockhold's wrestling? I would say better than Carmont's. Remember, Rockhold trains with Cain Velazquez and Daniel Cormier. Rockhold will likely go for more submissions than what Carmont did as well. To his credit, Philippou has yet to be submitted in his career, but when you look at the opponents on his resume and its easier to see why. An X-factor to throw out there is that Philippou left the Serra-Longo Fight Team shortly before Chris Weidman won the title to prevent any uncomfortable training with a potential future opponent. He has only had the Carmont fight since then, but he did look terrible. Where did he go? Bellmore Kickboxing Academy. Never heard of it? Don't worry, not many have.
I worry the change in camps has done more damage than good to Philippou and his takedown defense looked terrible last fight out. Rockhold enjoys standing and will do that so long as he is able to keep Philippou from closing the distance, at which point he'll try to take it to the ground. Philippou will get some good strikes in, but it won't be enough. He has never gone 5 rounds and his muscular frame doesn't serve his endurance well. I expect him to tire out and so my pick will be... Rockhold by Submission 4th Round
#13 Lorenz Larkin (14-1, 1 NC) vs. Brad Tavares (11-1), Middleweight
Larkin loves to keep the fight on the feet. He has a background in kung fu which explains his wide variety of kicks and some boxing which explains his fundamentally sound punches. He knows how to effectively use his striking despite it being almost 3 years since he scored a finish (he did have his moments against a tough Chris Camozzi) and should have a clear advantage in the striking department. Not that Tavares is a slouch at all on his feet. He has a very sound boxing game himself (though he may a little less technical), but he lacks the striking diversity of Larkin. Not that Tavares doesn't throw any kicks, but its rare to see his kicks aimed anywhere but the legs and Larkin has shown the ability to send his opponents head into the stands with his feet. Tavares has developed the ability to take the fight to the ground and pound out his opponent. Problem is that he has only been able to do that to opponents with suspect takedown defense. Larkin may not be a very good wrestler, but he has developed an awesome ability to avoid being taken down. Anyone else remember Larkin damn near doing the splits as Francis Carmont tried to take him down? I still expect Tavares to try and take the fight to the ground as Larkin has shown very little in the submission game outside of threatening Carmont with a kimura which was largely utilized to get the fight back on his feet.
This fight has some FOTN potential if you ask me. Both men have shown solid chins and enjoy a striking game more than anything. So I don't expect a finish. Even though I give Tavares a slight edge on the ground, Larkin won't let it get there long if at all, has faced a higher level of opposition (Carmont, King Mo, and Robbie Lawler for Larkin, Tom Watson, Riki Fukuda and Aaron Simpson for Tavares), and has more diversity in his striking and I think that will give him the edge in this fight. Larkin by Decision
#6 TJ Dillashaw (8-2) vs. #7 Mike Easton (13-3), Bantamweight
I like this match a lot (my favorite of the card) and would rather see this as the co-main event. But this match has much more of a do-or-die feel for Easton than it does for Dillashaw. Easton is coming off of two loses in a row and turns 30 later this month. While that may not sound very old, the shelf-life of the smaller fighters who depend on speed more than power is much shorter than the bigger guys and its doubtful Easton would have enough time to work himself back into contendership before his skills start to seriously erode. Dillashaw on the other hand is 27, loaded with natural athletic ability, and is in the premier camp for smaller fighters (Team Alpha Male). Considering that he has only been fighting for four years now and as impressive as Dillashaw has been the best is yet to come. Dillashaw's last fight was a split decision loss to Raphael Assuncao (who contributed the first of Easton's loss on his current losing streak) in which the media actually favored him for the decision 3-to-1 over Assuncao. Dillashaw is a former collegiate wrestler who has really tightened up his striking since the Ludwig Effect hit Team Alpha Male, scoring KO's in his last two victories. Easton is very boxing certric with a lot of head movement, but showed signs of mixing up his strategy more in his last fight. Both land a lot of strikes, but Dillashaw tends to avoid getting hit in return much better than Easton.
Easton is going to have to continue to progress as far as diversity in his strategy. I think Dillashaw has more tools even if Easton does mix things up as Easton has shown basically no submission game. At the very least I'm sure that Easton will look for the takedown more in this fight, but Dillashaw is tough to get to the ground and should land more shots than Easton does. He won't be able to finish the hard-nosed Hulk though. Dillashaw by Decision
Derek Brunson (11-2) vs. Yoel Romero (6-1), Middleweight
There is a very good chance the winner of this match will crack the top 15 rankings... but I would say the win has to be in impressive style. Both of these guys have wrestling backgrounds, Brunson as a 3-time Division II All-American and Romero a silver medal Olympic wrestler. Its hard to say exactly what will happen though. They could end up having so much respect for one anothers wrestling game and just stay standing or it could be a ground affair. I'm banking on the former, though Brunson has shown a more MMA-friendly and efficient style up to this point. Brunson easily has the length advantage and I gotta believe the time he has been putting in with Mike Winklejohn is paying off... he is coming off of a 48 second sub set up by his striking. Romero has had all of his victories come by way of KO/TKO, show tremendous power as he is very big for a middleweight. Many people will point out that Romero is 36, but he hasn't taken the same punishment your typical 36 year old in the sport has over the years and is no stranger to the spotlight (Olympics... remember I just said that?).
I have been very impressed by the poise that Romero has shown in his short time in the sport and I gotta believe he'd be the one to show the most improvement since their last fights. Brunson might be able to score a takedown or two (its almost an automatic reaction for him), but will eventually be put to sleep... just like all the other victims before him. Romero by TKO 1st Round
Don't let the rankings fool ya, this fight should be fairly close. After the champ Demetrious Johnson and the top three contenders (Dodson, Benavidez, McCall), the rest of the division is largely a crapshoot. Ortiz is an up-and-comer who should only be getting better while Moraga showed he has a long way to go before he can be separated into the upper-tier in his last match against Johnson, which wasn't even competitive. He is a solid wrestler (even if he couldn't stop Johnson from getting him down) and has developed a more than competent submission game to go with it. Ortiz should be able to neutralize this as his transitions to avoid sticky situations are excellent. Plus, Ortiz has shown that he doesn't mind going to the ground and can take it there himself. The standup game is pretty clear as well: Moraga will want to clinch and dirty box while Ortiz will want to keep his distance and strike with more of a traditional boxing style. I would probably give an ever so slight advantage to Ortiz standing while the ground should be Moraga's world.
Moraga is heavily favored here and it makes sense why. He came into the UFC with two impressive stoppage victories and his last fight was a title challenge. But I also feel he got the shot do to lack of options more than anything. There is usually at least one upset per card that people don't expect and I'm gonna go out on a limb and say this is the one. But it is going to be a a very close back-and-forth and possibly even controversial bout. Ortiz by Decision
Miller has been getting more press recently for calling out injured Conor McGregor than anything else lately. If he beats Sicilia he may get his wish. This one is fairly east to spell out though... not the result but what the strategies will be. Miller will never be accused of holding anything back as he has been in some slugfests (Steven Siler, Nam Phan). He has fantastic reach, but is horrible at letting people inside and getting hit. Thats good news for Sicilia as he is a striker first, second, and third. Problem is Sicilia is prone to getting hit a lot too. Does this fight sound like its going to turn into a slugfest? I thought so too. Sicilia has the power advantage for sure, but Miller has a solid chin. More importantly though, he has a massive advantage in the grappling game. But he isn't the best at getting the fight to the ground and Sicilia will have little reason to take it there.
This is another potential FOTN. Its hard to envision this fight being boring. As for how this one plays out, Miller is more savvy and I'm sure he'll find some way to get the fight to the ground whether it be via numerous takedown attempts or pulling guard and will pull this out via submission. Not before some fun striking exchanges though... Miller by Submission 2nd Round
This is gonna be a battle of TUF 13 veterans and possibly even a loser-leaves-town match. Edwards is 2-3 in the UFC and coming off a loss and though Nijem has a slightly better record at 3-3, he coming off two losses in a row. Edwards is making his lightweight debut, dropping from welterweight. He isn't the most effective striker and offers little power, but he does effectively use it to set up his takedowns. He might need to be more concerned about Nijem's takedowns though as he goes for them quite a bit... and Edwards (to be blunt) sucks at stopping them. Maybe the drop in weight will help him there. Edwards is a wiz at choking out his opponent (particularly the guillotine) and Nijem would need to watch out for that... seeing as how that is what he fell prey to in his last fight. On his feet Nijem stays pretty busy himself, but is similar to Edwards in that his technique is still relatively sloppy.
Nijem often comes out with a bang dictating the pace early and he is likely to do so here. Edwards will be patient and try to catch him with a sub when Nijem goes for a takedown. The question is whether or not he succeeds. I don't think that he does (I get the feeling Nijem was embarrassed how his last fight ended and does everything in his power to avoid that) and I feel that will be his only way to victory. Nijem grinds out a victory and stays employed in the UFC. Nijem by Decision
Silverio is making his lightweight debut and considering that he didn't seem to be a small welterweight, he should make for a big lightweight. He throws a lot of kicks and punches and will add knees to the mix in the clinch. He doesn't seem to have much power or urgency in his strikes though, seeming content to use them to score points rather than end the fight. Vallie-Flagg moves forward more with his striking and has more oomph behind them. Keep in mind that judges tend to favor aggressiveness. Neither fighter has shown much offense on the ground beyond your standard GNP nor does either have a true wrestling background so I wouldn't expect the fight to go to the ground long if it does so. Expect this one to stay on its feet with a lot of flurries from both fighters.
Neither of these guys are really thought of as power punchers, but are capable of scoring a flurry of strikes to put an opponent down. I don't think that happens here though.
Remember how I said judges tend to favor aggression? I think that was the deciding factor for Vallie-Flagg in his last bout and will be so here again. Silverio tends to let the flow of the fight come to him and that will end up costing him his first professional loss. Vallie-Flagg by Decision
Houston is still a mystery to everyone. He lost in 48 seconds in his UFC debut to Derek Brunson via submission and his three previous fights lasted about 3 minutes combined all due to KO/TKO. So the only extensive footage is his debut fight... usually not the best thing to go off of. He should powerful strikes in that (which you would expect with his previous fights not lasting very long do to punches) but very tentative GNP and easily gave up position. I would expect him to want to keep this standing considering 9 of Smith's victories have come by submission. Smith showed how game he is in his last outing with Ed Herman going balls to the wall and engaging in one of the years more memorable slugfests where both men threw the kitchen sink at one another. Not a whole lot of technique was shown, but he can take a punch and delivers some too. Still, considering his apparent advantage on the ground expect him to try and get Houston on the floor.
I want to give Houston more than a punchers chance as it is conceivable that he owns a striking advantage... but I haven't seen enough of him to do that. Smith showed that he is one tough bastard and could withstand a lot of damage and has a ground game to boot. Smith by Submission 1st Round
Ozkilic acquainted himself well with a debut victory over Darren Uyenoyama, a slick Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert, by displaying solid wrestling and GNP. He showed good strength as it was rare that he wasn't in control whether in the clinch or in Uyenoyama's guard and good ability to avoid submissions too. He showed good technique in his punches but not a lot of power. Smolka is a big and lanky flyweight and will look to keep distance on the feet and try to outstrike Ozkilic. He is usually fairly wild and has gotten into trouble early in his fights before because of this, but showed improved technique in his last fight for the PXC flyweight title. What doesn't bode well for him is he hasn't faced anyone with the type of wrestling chops that Ozkilic owns and needs a lot of work in this area as Ozkilic will certainly look to take him down and grind him out. He does own some slick submissions which Ozkilic would be stupid to overlook.
I liked what I saw out of Ozkilic in his debut and feel it bodes well for him in this match. He'll be able to ground Smolka and if Uyenoyama couldn't catch him in a sub I wouldn't expect Smolka to do so. Expect the crowd to get behind Smolka due to his exciting brand, but Ozkilic will win with a less crowd-pleasing style. Ozkilic by Decision
The last time we saw Pichel was over a year ago getting dropped on his head repeatedly by Rustam Khabilov. Its easy to forget that he made it to the semi-finals of TUF 15 due to the image of him being ragdolled by the Tiger. He is an aggressive (but not wild) striker and very effective in transitions on the ground. Even though all of his official victories are by KO/TKO, he earned two of his TUF victories by submission. His problem comes with physically strong wrestlers... kind of like Khabilov showed. Whiteley is... not really that kind of fighter. He trains under Chris Lytle and exhibits the same kind of scrappiness that his mentor exhibited. He doesn't have the boxing background or submission game that Lytle owned... so what is positive? He is similar to Pichel in that he is aggressive but seems under control, knowing how to pace himself and shows excellent counter strikes. He shows an effective Thai clinch too.
I actually want to say that Pichel will be unable to mentally overcome the humiliation of his devastating loss to Khabilov and Whiteley picks up the victory. But Whiteley doesn't seem to possess the chops necessary to stick around the UFC. Pichel comes out on top in the transitions and eventually catches Whiteley at a disadvantage and scores a victory. Pichel by TKO 2nd Round
Brenneman is back in the UFC after an absence of just over a year, but is returning in a new weight class. After being at a perpetual size disadvantage at welterweight, Brenneman will actually be fighting men his own size now. Considering his strength is wrestling and controlling his opponent, this could be monumental for 'The Spaniard.' When you look at some of the names he faced in the Octagon in his first stint (Johny Hendricks, Anthony Johnson, Rick Story), you can see why the drop in weight makes sense. Dariush is a protege of Wanderlei Silva and his work in the clinch in particular illustrates this as he has displayed devastating knees. He is aggressive and has a well-rounded striking arsenal and some solid submissions. At 24, he has a lot of time to grow into a force to be reckoned with. He has displayed solid takedown defense too, but he hasn't faced anything like Brenneman at this point in his career and could be in over his head. If he can keep it standing he will probably pull it outas Brenneman's strking is only serviceable, but Brenneman is a difficult one to put out.
I haven't seen anything out of Dariush to make me think he can stop Brenneman from smothering him. I'm sure he'll be able to land a shot or two that stun Brenneman, but Brenneman is a smart fighter and will grind his way to victory. Brenneman by Decision
Smart-ass and degrading comments aren't necessarily welcome... but I will accept them. If you actually have something constructive to say that would be much more appreciated.