Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is back in the "Peach State" with another mid-week fight card, as UFC Fight Night 35 storms the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Georgia, TONIGHT (Jan. 15, 2014) on FOX Sports 1.
Leading the charge will be former Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold, as he tries to recover from his debut loss to Vitor Belfort in Brazil by turning away the venerable Constantinos Philippou, who saw his five-fight winning streak snapped at the hands of Francis Carmont last September.
That's not all.
Lorenz Larkin will try to notch his second consecutive win as a UFC employee against former Ultimate Fighter (TUF) standout Brad Tavares. In addition, Charlie Brenneman makes his Octagon return opposite Beneil Dariush while T.J. Dillashaw tries to bounce back from just the second loss of his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) career.
All that and a bag of chips.
185 lbs.: Luke Rockhold (10-2) vs. Constantinos "Costas" Philippou (12-3)
Nostradumbass predicts: Constantinos Philippou was riding a five-fight winning streak under the Serra-Longo Academy, but then jumped ship to Bellmore Kickboxing Academy and lost his very next fight. I understand the Cypriot was uncomfortable training with Chris Weidman, who he may eventually have to fight, but did the loss come from switching camps, or the fact that Francis Carmont was the better fighter?
His performance against Luke Rockhold may hold the answer.
My issue with Philippou is that he doesn't finish fights, having stopped only two fighters in seven appearances under the UFC banner. Knocking out Jared Hamman is nothing to brag about and I had him losing the Tim Boetsch fight prior to the head butt (and finger to the eye) at UFC 155.
He's got good hands, the product of an early career in the "sweet science," but his overall game is lacking.
That's a problem against a dynamic fighter like Rockhold. I know he lost some of his luster after getting murked by Vitor Belfort, but "The Phenom" also knocked out Michael Bisping and Dan Henderson -- essentially with the same move -- so it's not like it was a freak occurrence.
Outside of that, he's been stellar inside the cage.
His win over Ronaldo Souza looks more impressive than ever when you consider that "Jacare" has finished all five of his opponents since they met. In addition, the former Strikeforce middleweight champion turned away the durable Tim Kennedy after 25 minutes of fisticuffs.
He can strike, he can wrestle and he can grapple.
He's also a giant middleweight. I don't think he will have trouble on the feet because his kicks will keep Philippou at bay and if they don't, his reach will. When all else fails, he can rely on his wrestling, something that has been fine-tuned in the same gym where Daniel Cormier and Cain Velasquez do work.
Unless Philippou lands a one-hitter quitter, something he's not known for doing, he's going down on points.
Final prediction: Rockhold def. Philippou via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Lorenz "The Monsoon" Larkin (14-1) vs. Brad Tavares (11-1)
Nostradumbass predicts: I had my doubts about Lorenz Larkin after watching him get creamed by Muhammed Lawal in Strikeforce, but he's never looked better since dropping down to middleweight, and yes, I'm taking into account his loss to Francis Carmont.
I had him winning.
Anyway, he was able to beat Robbie Lawler and Chris Camozzi and I think he beats Brad Tavares, too. I am concerned that he suddenly forgot how to finish a fight, racking up seven in a row from 2010-11, then scoring zero from that point on, a span of six fights.
It's hard to say, but I believe Tavares is too tough to be put away by strikes. The Hawaiian also has just one defeat in his pro career, a unanimous decision loss to Aaron Simpson, but I can't pick him to win because I don't think he's faced the same level of opposition as Larkin.
But he may be able to steal this one if he's aggressive.
"The Monsoon" is probably the more complete fighter and has a chance to do good things in this division; however, aggression and Octagon control have eluded him at times. Larkin will need to finish strong to take home the win and I believe he does.
It just won't be easy.
Final prediction: Larkin def. Tavares via split decision
125 lbs.: John Moraga (13-2) vs. Dustin Ortiz (12-2)
Nostradumbass predicts: This is my early pick for "Fight of the Night" and could probably steal the show, looking at some of the other pairings. We haven't seen John Moraga since he was trapped by "Mighty Mouse" in the final frame of their FOX title fight and that scrap has undoubtedly changed his career.
For the better.
Moraga got a taste of what it's like to headline an event and fight the best 125-pound fighter in the world and despite the outcome, did fairly well for himself. Ortiz, meanwhile, hasn't looked too shabby himself, pounding out Jose Maria Tome in his UFC debut.
He's also faced a veteran in the form of Ian McCall.
The question here is, has Ortiz progressed enough as a fighter to keep pace with -- and defeat -- the former division number one contender? I think he'll have his moments in a spirited, back-and-forth affair, but when push comes to shove, I just think "Chicano John" is the better fighter.
Even early, one-sided late.
Final prediction: Moraga def. Ortiz via technical knockout:
135 lbs.: T.J. Dillashaw (8-2) vs. Mike "The Hulk" Easton (13-3)
Nostradumbass predicts: Mike Easton continues our trend of fighters who are finding it harder and harder to finish fights. He was able to score a technical knockout victory over the unheralded Byron Bloodworth -- who has been finished in all three of his defeats -- but has since been to the scorecards in his four subsequent fights.
There's a reason they call him "The Hulk."
Easton is a powerhouse at 135 pounds, but he does his best work when he has room to breathe. He won't get that luxury against T.J. Dillashaw, who has transformed into one of the most dangerous fighters in the bantamweight class. A razor-thin loss to Raphael Assuncao -- that could have gone either way -- does not change that.
But he has to fight smart.
Shooting haphazardly will get him strangled early in the fight. Instead, I believe he will use his improved stand-up to set up his takedowns and control the pace of the fight from there. Easton is probably too strong to get bullied for very long, but in a 15-minute fight, he's got to find a way to score points.
The Californian is too crafty to let that happen.
Final prediction: Dillashaw def. Easton via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Derek Brunson (11-2) vs. Yoel "Soldier of God" Romero (6-1)
Nostradumbass predicts: Well, here's the bad news. Derek Brunson is not going to be taking Yoel Romero down. The self-proclaimed "Soldier of God" won a silver medal in freestyle wrestling at the Summer Olympics, so we can go ahead and just put that behind us.
If it goes to the floor, it's only going to happen with his permission.
That means Brunson has to bang it out on the feet, so I guess now is as good a time as any to mention that Romero has ended all six of his wins by death punch. Brunson was able to win his first two fights inside the Octagon, but he looked dreadful in a short notice win over Chris Leben and his submission victory over Brian Houston was, well, over Brian Houston.
Prior to that, he lost back-to-back fights to Kendall Grove and "Jacare" Souza.
Unless he can swing for the fences and connect -- a la "Feijao" -- I think he's a sitting duck. There is always a concern about Romero's conditioning, but the fight won't last long enough for Brunson to exploit it.
The neck brace could make an appearance in Georgia.
Final prediction: Romero def. Brunson via knockout
145 lbs.: Cole "Magrinho" Miller (20-8) vs. Sam Sicilia (12-3)
Nostradumbass predicts: It's hard to believe sometimes, but Cole Miller has 15 fights inside the Octagon, starting with a technical knockout win over Andy Wang (lolz) at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 5 Finale and ending with a unanimous decision nod over Andy Ogle at UFC Fight Night 30.
During that span, he's never managed to win three straight fights and is just 2-3 over his last five. Working in his favor is the fact that he's seen and done it all, so there isn't much Sam Sicilia can throw at him that he hasn't already dealt with before.
And Sicilia hasn't been lighting the world on fire.
He came storming out of the gate with a knockout win over Cristiano Marcello in his UFC debut, but then got a taste of his own medicine in his very next fight against Rony Jason. Since then, he split a pair of bouts against Maximo Blanco and "Pepe" Castro.
Not exactly the stuff of legend.
I wouldn't be surprised to see Sicilia bumrush his opponent -- busting right through the reach -- and getting Miller to the ground. Unfortunately, "Magrinho" will lull him into a false sense of security and end the contest with an armbar or triangle choke.
Final prediction: Miller def. Sicilia via submission
That's a wrap.
MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 35 fight card TONIGHT (Jan. 15, 2014) 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.
For previews and predictions on the preliminary card fights click here and here. To see all the odds and betting lines for UFC Fight Night 35 click here and remember to come check us out after the show for all the latest results, recaps and coverage of "Rockhold vs. Philippou."
What do you think? Now it's your turn ... let us have it in the comments section and share your thoughts and picks for tomorrow night's event.