Luke Rockhold has recorded nine wins in his last 10 outings. | Photo: Gleidson Venga/Sherdog.com
With the UFC Fight Pass debut out of the way, the Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to Fox Sports 1 on Wednesday for UFC Fight Night 35. Luke Rockhold and Costas Philippou, two middleweights looking to bounce back from deflating defeats, occupy the top spot on the card, which takes place at The Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga.
The main bill includes another interesting middleweight clash between Brad Tavares and Lorenz Larkin. Like many UFC Fight Night events, the usual array of fringe contenders, prospects and newcomers round out the rest of the lineup. So buckle up for some mid-week MMA and be grateful you do not have to get up before sunrise to see it.
Here is a closer look at UFC Fight Night 35, with analysis and picks:
MiddleweightsLuke Rockhold (10-2, 0-1 UFC) vs. Costas Philippou (12-3, 5-2 UFC)
The Matchup: Rockhold entered his Octagon debut as the former Strikeforce champion on a nine-fight winning streak, including notable five-round verdicts over Ronaldo Souza and Tim Kennedy. He left as just another victim of Vitor Belfort’s personal highlight reel for 2013, falling prey to a spinning heel kick 2:32 into the opening round at UFC on FX 8.
It was not the first time that Rockhold had been hit in a fight; it was, however, the first time he had been hit in a fight by Belfort. Despite being an excellent athlete and a fluid striker, Rockhold can get caught leaning forward with his hands low in exchanges. For the most part, Rockhold is durable -- his chin held up for 50 minutes against Souza and Kennedy -- but he learned the hard way that Belfort possesses a whole different type of power.
While Philippou is nowhere near the knockout artist that Belfort is, he might be able to lure the American Kickboxing Academy product into range by remaining elusive. With his professional boxing background, Philippou certainly has the footwork and movement to at least attempt to put this into play.
If Philippou can get Rockhold to chase him, he might find more opportunities to land combinations. However, Philippou has questions of his own to answer. His first performance upon leaving the vaunted Serra-Longo Fight Team camp for the Bellmore Kickboxing Academy left a lot to be desired, as he was dominated on the ground by Francis Carmont at UFC 165. Thus far, opponents with the ability to wrestle -- Carmont and Nick Catone -- have given Philippou the most trouble, although his takedown defense has proven stingy in other matchups against the likes of Court McGee, Riki Fukuda and Tim Boetsch.
Fortunately for Philippou, Rockhold does not attempt a high volume of takedowns. Still, outpointing the Strikeforce veteran on the feet will be no simple task. Rockhold is a large middleweight -- a fact reflected by his four-inch height and reach advantage over Philippou. He is also a brown belt in jiu-jitsu and an underrated grappler overall, as six of his career wins have come via submission. At the highest levels of competition, however, Rockhold has shown a preference to rely on his kickboxing, which includes a solid jab, straight left and a versatile arsenal of kicks. While Rockhold’s punching combinations are fairly basic, his technique is clean. His kicks are far more varied, and he does a good job of changing levels with them to keep opponents guessing, often using low kicks to set up more damaging attacks.
Philippou does not have the same toolbox as Rockhold, but he can land punches in combination. In recent fights he has taken a more measured approach against wrestling-minded foes, but do not be surprised if he opens up against Rockhold.
The Pick: Rockhold’s ability to control the range will force Philippou to take some risks to avoid being picked apart at a distance. That will give Rockhold the opening he needs, as he wins by TKO or submission in round three or four.
Next Fight » Lorenz Larkin vs. Brad Tavares