The UFC's 2014 Fight Night series rolls around again with a decent if unmemorable card as the organization returns to Georgia for the first time since UFC 145. The main event of the evening pits two ranked middleweights desperately in need of a win.
Will Luke Rockhold get back to his winning ways after being toppled by Vitor Belfort? Does Costas Philippou have what it takes to win at this level after changing camps? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Wednesday's event.
What: UFC Fight Night 35: Rockhold vs. Philippou
Where: The Arena at Gwinnett Center, Duluth, Georgia
When: Wednesday, the two-fight Fight Pass card starts at 4 p.m. ET, the four-fight Fox Sports 1 card starts at 5 p.m. and the six-fight main card starts on Fox Sports 1 at 7 p.m.
Luke Rockhold vs. Costas Philippou
Rockhold is a huge favorite here and maybe for good reason. Maybe he uses his length and fuller kickboxing arsenal to back Philippou up. Yet, I wonder if Rockhold will be too willing to engage at short range, thereby letting Philippou work his formidable boxing. Really, this all depends on the approach Rockhold elects to take. That worries me a bit about his chances, but if the fight hinges on what one fighter does or doesn't, you usually have to side with them. Either way, I don't suspect this fight will be decided anywhere but the stand-up portion. That signals Rockhold has the advantages.
On the feet, Tavares is tough, but will get routinely popped by the superior, more thorough and quicker striker in Larkin. If Tavares can drag the fight to the floor, he has a chance, but with each fight, Larkin demonstrates his takedown defense and balance in fighting off takedown attempts is becoming something to behold. I don't know if Larkin finishes the tough Hawaiian, but he wins.
Easton is as talented as they come and up until the Brad Pickett fight, I don't felt like UFC fans got a chance to see that. He's worked hard on his deficiencies, most notably his takedown defense, which is now superb. He's also a cleaner boxer than Dillashaw. The problem is Easton is a counter fighter the majority of the time. He likes to react off of another fighter's offense or movement. That'd be fine considering Dillashaw likes to come forward, but Easton often also doesn't react enough. He fights hard, but rarely with a sense of urgency. That's true even when he's down on the cards. He's got one speed - and it's a good one - but it's just one speed. That leaves the opening for his opponents to define the complexion of the fight. I suspect Dillashaw will do exactly that.
This one is a bit interesting. Brunson is out of his depth as an athlete and wrestler against Romero. That much is certain. But I'm not overly high on Romero's fight IQ. He's got the athletic skills to do whatever he likes, but he takes weird portions of rounds off and has uneven attacks. When he's on, he's lights out and I do think he'll win. But if Brunson is patient and can capitalize on the moments Romero isn't doing a lot, he can surprise a lot of people.
Stated plainly, Moraga has a better resume against better fighters. Even in a loss to Demetrious Johnson, Moraga likely gained a better sense of self, what works and what doesn't. In this case, I see him mixing his game nicely along the fence for a TKO stoppage some time in the second or third round.
I certainly can see a case for Sicilia boxing Miller up, pushing him around the Octagon and getting a stoppage win. On the other hand, Sicilia is so aggression-prone, he leaves all sorts of openings for Miller to use his underrated MMA clinch judo takedowns and then his excellent jiu-jitsu. This isn't a walk in the park for Miller, but he should be able to weather an early storm and eventually take over.
From the preliminary card: