For the first time since 2012, the UFC is back in the Peach State. Duluth, Georgia plays host to UFC Fight Night 35, which features Luke Rockhold and Costa Philippou in the main event of the evening. Both men are coming off difficult losses, with Rockhold in particular on the receiving end of Vitor Belfort's ridiculous spinning kick to the head. The former Strikeforce champ looks for his first UFC win while Philippou tries to rebound from a lopsided decision against Francis Carmont.
Before we get to the main event itself, let's have a look at the rest of the six-fight main card, which features several familiar names whether from Strikeforce or TUF. Former flyweight title challenger John Moraga also makes his return tonight. The UFC Fight Night 35 main card kicks off live on Fox Sports 1 at 7 PM ET/4 PM PT from the Gwinett Center. Following the conclusion of the event be sure to join our live discussion of TUF: Nations which pits Canada and Australia against each other in this latest international version of the TUF franchise.
Lorenz Larkin (14-1, 1 NC MMA; 1-1 UFC) vs. Brad Tavares (11-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC) - Middleweights
Larkin is a former Strikeforce fighter who moved down from LHW following a KO loss (later overturned to a NC) against King Mo. He put on a good showcase against Robbie Lawler before entering the UFC, where controversy would immediately ensue in his fight against Francis Carmont. Despite stuffing just about all of Carmont's takedown attempts while landing the better strikes, the judges gave the fight to Carmont in one of the worst decisions of 2013. "Da Monsoon" did get his first UFC win later in the year in a bloody battle against Chris Camozzi last November.
Tavares is a 26-year-old talent out of TUF 11 who has won his last 4 fights and 6 of 7 overall in the UFC. His only finish during his time with the organization is a KO of Phil Baroni back in 2011, with all of his other victories coming by decision. The Hawaii native beat TUF 17's Bubba McDaniel last August by unanimous decision, and tonight's co-main event with Larkin could spring the winner closer towards the top 10 of the division. These two are good strikers, although the power advantage goes to Larkin in addition to his tendency to strike at a higher volume.
T.J. Dillashaw (8-2 MMA, 4-2 UFC) vs. Mike Easton (13-3 MMA, 3-2 UFC) - Bantamweights
Team Alpha Male has been churning out top talent for years, and Dillashaw looks to be another one. The TUF 14 alum was knocked out by John Dodson in the finals, but from there he put up several impressive showings, including a 1st round TKO of Hugo Viana at UFC on Fox 7 in San Jose. Dillashaw was given a big step up in competition in Raphael Assuncao at UFC Fight Night 29 in October 2013. The two men engaged in an entertaining back-and-forth battle that featured striking, grappling, wrestling, and anything else you wanted. It was a deserved FOTN bonus for Dillashaw, but I'm sure he'd have preferred the split decision nod. That snapped his winning streak but he's favored to start a new one tonight.
You might recall Easton on the fortunate end of a split decision against Chase Beebe in what Luke Thomas (and many others) consider one of the worst robberies of 2009. Easton signed on with the UFC in 2011 and made an immediate impact with wins over Byron Bloodworth, Ivan Menjivar, and Jared Papazian. His success has since come to a halt, losing back-to-back fights to Raphael Assuncao (who spent most of the fight dealing with a broken arm) and Brad Pickett. It's not necessarily a case of Easton being cut if he loses again, but more the significant chance that another defeat would derail any chance of him being a serious title contender.
Derek Brunson (11-2 MMA, 2-0 UFC) vs. Yoel Romero (6-1 MMA, 2-0 UFC) - Middleweights
Brunson left Strikeforce on a bad note, getting brutally KO'd by Jacare Souza in August 2012 for his 2nd straight loss. He joined the UFC on short notice against brawler Chris Leben, but Brunson pulled off the upset in an otherwise forgettable mess. Lacking notable and exciting highlights in his Zuffa career, Brunson's 2nd appearence in the UFC was fantastic, as he floored Brian Houston with a head kick before submitting him with a rear-naked choke in just 48 seconds.
Romero is 2000 Olympic silver medalist in freestyle wrestling, and he got into professional MMA a full 9 years after his greatest achievement. The 36-year-old Cuban however has become known for his fearsome and powerful striking. After losing to Rafael Cavalcante in Strikeforce and missing all of 2012, Romero debuted at middleweight in 2013 and has scored KO wins over Clifford Starks and Ronny Markes. The Starks win netted him a KOTN bonus with his vicious and pinpoint accurate flying knee.
John Moraga (13-2 MMA, 2-1 UFC) vs. Dustin Ortiz (12-2 MMA, 1-0 UFC) - Flyweights
Moraga's first two UFC fights were on Facebook, both impressive stoppages over Ulysses Gomez and Chris Cariaso. By July he was fighting for the flyweight title against Demetrious Johnson. He came in as a big underdog and the fight played out as such, as Johnson completely dominated him before forcing a 5th round armbar win. It was clearly a case of "too much, too soon", and now he takes a step back and looks for success in his first fight since losing to the champ.
Ortiz is on a four-fight winning streak dating back to August 4th, 2012, which was coincidentally Moraga's UFC debut. Dustin's own debut came in enemy territory against Jose Maria Tome in November at UFC Fight Night 32. Ortiz was able to pull off a 3rd round TKO win. The Roufusport products now finds himself in the main card spotlight for the first time in his young UFC career.
Cole Miller (20-8 MMA, 9-6 UFC) vs. Sam Sicilia (12-3 MMA, 2-2 UFC) - Featherweights
"Magrinho" is a quality BJJ black belt known for partaking in exciting contests, but consistency has long been a problem for the TUF 5 alum. He's yet to win 3 straight UFC fights and is 3-4 in his last 7. His return to featherweight has not yielded great results, although his last fight against Andy Ogle did end in a unanimous decision triumph. Miller has excellent submissions but is also liable on the feet, an area where Sicilia should be able to shine if he connects with one of his powerful punches. It's a stylistic clash that I'm certainly looking forward to.
Sicilia can definitely be classified as an action fighter. The TUF 15 lightweight knocked Cristiano Marcello senseless in the season finale and immediately moved to featherweight following the win. In October 2012 he took on TUF Brazil champ Rony Jason, losing by 2nd round TKO in a fun slugfest. A close decision loss to Maximo Blanco in April 2013 put him in the undesirable position of a possible UFC release. He erased any doubt that he'd be cut with a wonderful TKO from Godofredo Pepey's guard in November. This is Sicilia's first main card slot in the UFC and it's well-earned based on his showings even in defeat.
SBN coverage of UFC Fight Night 35
- Mishandling of Georges St-Pierre could come back to bite the UFC
- UFC Fight Night 35 Judo Chop: Luke Rockhold’s Boxing Lesson
- UFC Fight Night 35 Factgrinder: The Wrestling Career of Yoel Romero
- Miss United States 2012, Whitney Miller Trades Her Beauty Pageant for the Gi and MMA gloves
- UFC Fight Night 35: Luke Rockhold talks about the night a girl tried to fight him