Alptekin Ozkilic has gone the distance seven times in 10 pro bouts. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The Ultimate Fighting Championship has Georgia on its mind once again.
The Las Vegas-based organization returns to the Peach State on Wednesday, when UFC Fight Night 35 takes place at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga. Former Strikeforce middleweight titlist and groovy surfer dude Luke Rockhold will headline the festivities opposite hard-hitting New Yorker Costas Philippou, while Lorenz Larkin battles Brad Tavares in the Fox Sports 1-broadcast co-main event.
Like the main draw, most of the undercard airs live on FS1, though the bill will open with two UFC Fight Pass bouts. Here are five reasons to tune in early and catch the UFC Fight Night 35 prelims:
Fresh from a split decision victory over veteran Darren Uyenoyama at UFC on Fox 9 in December, Alptekin Ozkilic will jump right back in the Octagon for a meeting with promotional newcomer and reigning Pacific Xtreme Combat champion Louis Smolka.
Let us examine what a victory over a competitor like Uyenoyama means for Ozkilic. Though the well-traveled veteran is not the most athletically imposing flyweight, “BC” is still known as a fine grappler and a tough test for anybody at 125 pounds -- a test that Ozkilic clearly passed. While he did not score a finish against the Californian, there is no shame in taking a decision from a man finished just twice in 13 pro outings. The grappling-heavy affair saw the Istanbul native put in 15 minutes of hard work, showcasing his power and athleticism in a performance that also verified his relative inexperience. I thought Ozkilic resembled a bull in a china shop at times, but his takedowns and aggressiveness were impressive nonetheless.
Now paired with Smolka, Ozkilic looks to grab his second Octagon triumph in as many months. Can he extend his winning streak to five fights or will the PXC champ stay unbeaten at Ozkilic’s expense?
Return of ‘The Spaniard’
Like many fighters before him, Charlie Brenneman has received a second chance in the UFC, this time at 155 pounds. How will “The Spaniard” make use of his opportunity?
Filling in for an appendix-less Jason High, Brenneman returns to the Octagon having won four straight fights since receiving his UFC release following stoppage losses to Erick Silva and Kyle Noke in 2012.
During his three-year Octagon stint, the 32-year-old failed to record a finish in any of his four promotional triumphs. Brenneman has since turned over a new leaf, scoring three submissions in his last four wins and tapping Bellator vet Kyle Baker with an arm-triangle in October to win the New Jersey-based Cage Fury Fighting Championships lightweight crown.
“The Spaniard” will now face unbeaten UFC newcomer Beneil Dariush, who was called upon to replace an injured Adlan Amagov last month. Can Brenneman make some noise in his second Octagon stint?
I Like Ike
Like Brenneman, Isaac Vallie-Flagg will re-enter the Octagon following an extended leave of absence, though it was injury and not a pink slip that kept Vallie-Flagg out of the UFC for nearly a full year.
Vallie-Flagg kicked off 2013 with an upset of Yves Edwards in February in his UFC debut, taking a split verdict from the 16-year pro to extend his winning streak to five fights. The 35-year-old has not lost since 2007, posting a record of 11-0-1 in his last 12 fights while scoring victories over Brian Melancon and Gesias Cavalcante during a two-fight Strikeforce stint.
The Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts rep had planned to face Sam Stout in June before hurting his back and withdrawing from the contest. Now healed from the injury, the lightweight will face former Jungle Fight welterweight king Elias Silverio, who has never before tasted defeat. Can the American overcome his younger opponent and hand “Xuxu” his first career setback?
“The Ultimate Fighter 13” castmates Justin Edwards and Ramsey Nijem could both use a victory right about now.
Edwards has lost three of five UFC bouts since his time on the reality series, and he was dismantled by debuting prospect Brandon Thatch at UFC Fight Night 27 in August. Nijem, meanwhile, has lost back-to-back fights after posting three straight wins in the wake of his defeat to Tony Ferguson at “The Ultimate Fighter 13” Finale.
It is unlikely that either man can afford more of the same moving forward, especially within the deep waters of the UFC lightweight division. Which competitor will stop the bleeding and get back in the win column?
‘Hot Sauce’ and Houston
I have to admit, when I first saw Trevor Smith-Ed Herman on the UFC on Fox 8 bill, I was not expecting much.
How wrong I turned out to be, as Smith and Herman put on a bloody good show en route to picking up “Fight of the Night” bonuses at the July 27 event. With his hard-fought split decision defeat to Herman now behind him, “Hot Sauce” looks toward Brian Houston, a middleweight who saw his perfect pro record shattered in just 48 seconds by Derek Brunson in November.
Odds are good this one will not go the distance, as Smith and Houston have seen the judges’ scorecards just twice in 19 combined outings. The bout may not have any real bearing on the UFC middleweight ranks, but I think it may nevertheless turn out to be a crowd pleaser.