Time to start the climb once again.
After tough losses in their previous outings, Middleweight contenders Luke Rockhold and Costas Philippou will look to reaffirm their positions among the 185-pound elite at each others' expense, duking it out in the main event of UFC Fight Night 35 this Wednesday (Jan. 15, 2014) evening.
The Duluth, Ga.-based card, which takes place at The Arena at Gwinnett Center, will also feature a clash of rising stars in the same division when Lorenz Larkin and Brad Tavares lock horns.
We have six under cars "Prelims" this time around, the first two of which will stream on the new online "Fight Pass" digital network (not Facebook.com and/or YouTube.com) and the rest on Fox Sports 1. Because we like splitting things equally, though, let's look at three tonight and the balance tomorrow.
Here we go:
125 lbs.: Alp Ozkilic vs. Louis Smolka
A standout wrestler and assistant to Dominick Cruz during his coaching run on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 15: "Live," Alp Ozkilic (9-1) scored the first two knockouts of his career in 2013 to earn a spot on the UFC’s burgeoning Flyweight roster. In his debut, he defeated grappling specialist Darren Uyenoyama, a man seven years his senior.
Ozkilic will give up two inches of height to his debuting opponent.
Since his professional debut in April 2012, Louis Smolka (6-0) has established himself as a consistent finisher, ending all six of his bouts inside the distance. Four of those wins have come via submission, though his most recent victory came via strikes.
He is a product of the PXC promotion alongside Russell Doane and Hyun Gyu Lim.
Smolka is undoubtedly skilled. Unfortunately, this is a horrific match up for him -- he excels at scoring takedowns and working from top position. The issue is that Ozkilic is the superior wrestler by a fair margin. In addition, Smolka took a beating from his back a few fights ago before turning things around later on.
Though I am not overly impressed with Ozkilic’s stand up, there is nothing to deter him from working a takedown-heavy game the way Uyenoyama’s guard did.
Ozkilic is more experienced, has faced tougher competition and possesses a superior version of Smolka’s primary skillset. I don’t anticipate him having too much trouble working him over for the full 15 minutes.
Prediction: Ozkilic via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Vinc Pichel vs. Garett Whiteley
Team Dominick Cruz’s sixth pick on TUF 15, Vinc Pichel (7-1) defied expectations by making it all the way to the semifinals, where he lost a decision to Al Iaquinta. His Octagon debut was a tad less successful, as he was mercilessly suplexed into the ground by Rustam Khabilov for a first-round knockout loss.
All seven of his victories have come by form of knockout inside two rounds.
After scoring two straight first-round knockouts in 2013, Garett Whiteley (7-1) signed on and debuted in Brazil against local fighter Alan Patrick. After almost four minutes of action, Whiteley ran headlong into a vicious left hand, resulting in his first career defeat.
Whiteley has never gone the distance, ending six bouts inside the first round.
Honestly, I’m not terribly impressed by either of these two. Pichel’s been out for a while, but he’s competed against more high-level opposition than Whiteley, at least on TUF. Plus, while it was one hell of a punch, Whiteley getting recently knocked out by a guy who’s primarily a wrestling specialist doesn’t bode well against the dude with seven knockouts.
I’m trying to think of more to pad this with, but am currently drawing a blank. Six of Pichel’s knockouts have come in the second round ... so let’s go with that.
Prediction: Pichel via second-round technical knockout
155 lbs.: Charlie Brenneman vs. Beneil Dariush
After opening his UFC career 2-1, Charlie Brenneman (19-5) enjoyed a brief Cinderella moment in 2011, besting Rick Story on just days’ notice. That peak proved treacherous, however, as he suffered three first-round stoppage losses in his next four fights.
Brenneman has since won four straight, three by submission, and has stepped up to face Beneil Dariush (6-0) on two weeks’ notice.
Once a rising star on the Brazilian jiu-jitsu circuit, Dariush elected to try his hand at mixed martial arts (MMA) soon after achieving his black belt. The 24-year-old -- a training partner of Wanderlei Silva -- has not seen the judges since his debut, picking up two knockouts and three submissions.
Dariush replaced Adlan Amagov when "Borz" was first scheduled to face Jason High.
Everything I’ve seen about Dariush suggests that his grappling is legit. Unfortunately, I’ve long since learned not to bank on the inferior wrestler submitting an opponent off his back. Dariush has never faced a wrestler anywhere near the caliber of Brenneman, who theoretically should have no qualms about looking for takedowns early and often.
Brenneman’s big weakness is that his takedowns are basically his entire offense, which can result in him getting violently countered. Dariush ostensibly doesn’t have anywhere near the power of Kyle Noke, Johny Hendricks or the others who have punished "The Spaniard" in the past.
Yes, Erick Silva did tap Brenneman, but he did so by stopping the takedown and achieving a superior position. That's not happening here, though ... Brenneman by decision.
Prediction: Brenneman via unanimous decision
That's a wrap for now. Three more UFC Fight Night 35 "Prelims" previews and predictions to go, all of them intriguing and with the potential for quality action.
Stop by tomorrow to figure out if I'm lying, Maniacs.
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 35 fight card this Wednesday night right here, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" at 4 p.m. ET, right on through the FOX Sports 1-televised main card bouts at 7 p.m. ET.