UFC Fight Night 35, which takes place later this evening (Weds., Jan. 15, 2014) from The Arena in Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga., is an important night for the mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion's Middleweight division.
Indeed, the main- and co-main events are both very relevant for the 185-pound standings. Specifically, the co-main event match between Lorenz Larkin and Brad Tavares should be a very entertaining scrap, one that will push the winner higher up in the rankings.
Larkin, a Strikeforce standout in the Light Heavyweight division before his drop to middleweight, is known for his flashy striking. A polished kickboxer, Larkin boasts good speed and power in his strikes. He also is known to utilize more unorthodox techniques such as spinning kicks. His footwork is also very good and very agile, making him difficult to time, while also making him hard to escape from with his ability to cut off the cage.
Tavares is a striker, too, but his approach is much more conventional. His kicks and punches are always very orthodox, rarely leaving himself exposed for counter strikes. His defense is very solid, but his movement is not perfect, sometimes allowing opponents to cut angles on him, which opens up striking opportunities for them. His strikes pack power, but they lack speed, which may be a detriment to him when fighting someone as quick as Larkin.
In addition to being a very interesting clash in the striking department, expect this fight to get interesting in the clinch. Tavares is a powerful middleweight and he is very good at bullying his way into double underhooks, while also being effective at landing punishing strikes in close. Larkin is also very good in the clinch, slickly working his own strikes in while fighting for position.
The problem here for Larkin is that Tavares is likely much stronger than him ... and Larkin isn't exactly the biggest physical presence in tight exchanges. We saw this in his bouts with Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal and Francis Carmont, where Larkin struggled in the clinch (even if the latter example was a very dubious decision loss).
If Larkin can hold his own in the clinch, expect him to be set in terms of stopping Tavares' takedowns. Larkin has shown that he has very good hips, which means he can sprawl hard when he needs to, rendering shots almost useless unless Tavares is especially tenacious. His legs are flexible and his balance is good, which also makes it difficult to catch him in single legs, meaning Tavares' main route toward getting takedowns would have to be in the clinch.
What Tavares lacks in unpredictability he makes up for in tenacity. It will be interesting to see whether he pressures Larkin to get a clinch or if he'll be content to stand at range with "The Monsoon." Either man could finish the other, which makes this fight very intriguing, considering both of these men seem ready to make a big step up in competition.
With a lot riding on the outcome of this bout, expect both of these fighters to go hard and stay in it for as long as they physically can en route to a possible "Fight of the Night" bonus ... and much bigger things in the Middleweight division in 2014.