Wednesday night allowed MMA fans to get a mid-week fix as the UFC put on Fight Night 35 from Duluth, Georgia. The main card was heavily weighted towards the middleweight division, and we saw varying levels of performance from six 185ers last night. The main event was viewed by many as a way for Luke Rockhold (11-2) to get back on track following the devastating loss he suffered in his UFC debut. Closing as a -405 favourite (bet $405 to win $100) at 5Dimes Sportsbook, Rockhold did not disappoint, as he dispatched Costas Philippou (12-4) in short order with a vicious body attack. Rockhold took advantage of being a southpaw facing an orthodox fighter, and fired left power kicks early and often, eventually finishing Philippou with two successive liver kicks. Perhaps in an effort to cap off a night which at times lacked violence, Rockhold even tried to follow up on the prone Cypriot with a soccer kick to the body, although the ref’s intervention meant that strike didn’t land with full force.
Following the bout, the former Strikeforce champion expressed his desire to fight Vitor Belfort again, and his willingness to go through Michael Bisping to get it. Neither of those matches are likely to come to fruition at this point, however a match against the winner of either the Jacare/Carmont or Machida/Mousasi matches would make sense. Whoever looks most impressive in those two fights is likely to be next in line for the middleweight title, while Rockhold and the other winner should fit in line after that. In the co-main event, one of only three upsets on the card took place, as Brad Tavares (12-1) extended his winning streak to five fights against Lorenz Larkin (14-2, 1 NC). Tavares closed as a rather large +240 underdog (bet $100 to win $240), but used his characteristic pressure striking along with some wrestling to keep Larkin from getting any offense going during the first 10 minutes. Larkin rebounded in the third round, but it was too little, too late and his UFC record dropped to 1-2 since coming over from Strikeforce. One of the most impressive outings of the night belonged to TJ Dillashaw (9-2) who dominated Mike Easton (13-4) over the course of 15 minutes en route to a decision victory. The first round was competitive, but clearly won by the Alpha Male product, and the gap only widened between the two fighters as the bout wore on. It was a consummate performance by Dillashaw, as his stand-up continued to improve, while his wrestling, guard passing and striking on the ground were fabulous as per usual. This clearly showed that Dillashaw belongs at the top of the bantamweight division, and should former title contender Eddie Wineland get past Yves Jabouin in a week and a half, that would be an appropriate next step. In what was undoubtedly the wackiest fight of the evening, Yoel Romero (7-1) picked up yet another third round (T)KO victory, coming back from two rounds down to finish Derek Brunson (11-3) with a brutal salvo of elbows to the body after hurting him on the feet. Romero is must-watch TV whenever he steps in the cage, as he mixes crazy antics with both incredible offense and prolonged periods of inactivity. Mix those qualities in with the fact that Romero is one of the most accomplished wrestlers to ever enter to the UFC, yet refuses to utilize his wrestling offensively and often finds himself taken down by his opponents. Romero is perplexing and exciting, and you never know what’s going to happen when he’s in there. To me, there’s nothing better than that.
Also on the main card was the obligatory controversial decision of the evening, as John Moraga (14-2) took split ballots over Dustin Ortiz (12-3), despite many scoring the first and third rounds for Ortiz. At any rate, Ortiz was severely underrated in this bout, and Moraga was overestimated based on his quick track to the title. This bout showcased everything great about the flyweight division, as it was fought at a high pace throughout, showed technical acumen, and was just generally entertaining. The main card also started with a brilliant performance by Cole Miller (21-8), who put together one of the best performances in his career by using his length to control distance and hurt Sam Sicilia (12-4) on multiple occasions before wrapping up the rear-naked choke. Notable undercard performances belonged to a pair of fighters making their UFC debuts. Flyweight Louis Smolka (7-0) kept his record unbeaten by outlasting Alptekin Ozkilic (9-2). The Hawaiian continued the string of success by the 808 Top Team, extending their 2014 UFC record to 4-0. Kings MMA representative Beneil Dariush (7-0) moved his record to the exact same mark by quickly dispatching Charlie Brenneman (19-6). Dariush hurt the returning UFC fighter with a heavy left hand before taking the back BJ Penn-style, and finishing with the choke. While the prelims for Fight Night 35 weren’t exactly rousing, the main card made up for that and the end product was another card that while not overflowing with name value was unarguably entertaining. Next stop for the UFC is the United Center in Chicago for UFC on Fox 10 on January 25th. Stay tuned to MMA Oddsbreaker for odds and analysis for that card in the coming week.