Costas Philippou will fight former Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold on Jan. 15 in the main event at UFC Fight Night 35, and he senses a Fight of the Night performance is forthcoming.
"We're going to strike, go back and forth, and hopefully I'll finish the fight before five rounds," Philippou told Bleacher Report. "My main goal is to put up an exciting fight, hopefully a Fight of the Night."
The former professional boxer will look to open up on the feet against Rockhold and force him into a stand-up war. In his last fight against Vitor Belfort at UFC on FX 8, Rockhold was knocked out with a spinning heel kick, and Philippou, despite throwing few kicks throughout his MMA career, teased a knockout via this method.
"I have kicks in my arsenal, I just never use them," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if I catch him with a kick."
Like Rockhold, Philippou enters this marquee bout on a losing streak, and he needs an impressive win to maintain his status as a Top 10 middleweight.
In his last outing at UFC 165, he was controlled by No. 8 middleweight Francis Carmont for three rounds, offering little resistance to the TriStar product's smothering top game. UFC president Dana White lambasted this performance, tweeting:
Sorry I just woke up! Thank god that's over. We decided a shot of @ChrisWeidmanUFC would be more exciting than the end of the fight.— Dana White (@danawhite) September 22, 2013
Philippou owned up to his boss' harsh words and acknowledged that his UFC 165 showing was a dud.
"In my last fight, it was a boring fight," he said. "I was the one fighting, and I couldn't even watch the fight."
Like any devoted professional, however, he said he learned from the experience and has trained to avoid similar positions against Rockhold at UFC Fight Night 35.
"I worked more on getting myself off the ground in case I end up there," Philippou said. "At some point in a five-round fight, I'll probably end up on my back. My main goal is to get back on my feet and exchange."
With a win over the sixth-ranked Rockhold, Philippou would put himself in a nice position to make a run to the top of the division in 2014.
Current middleweight king Chris Weidman is a former sparring partner of Philippou's, and the UFC Fight Night 35 combatant knows the champion's game well.
"We sparred and trained together for five years (at Serra-Longo)," Philippou said. "I don't think anybody matches up well with Weidman. The guy deserves to be a champion."
Despite his high praise of Weidman, Philippou acknowledged that everybody is beatable. The middleweight champion proved that point in his two fights against pound-for-pound legend Anderson Silva.
"He (Weidman) proved that nobody is inhuman," Philippou said. "But I'm not even thinking about fighting for the title right now."
For now, Philippou's date with Rockhold looms large, and a dominant victory will put the Bellmore Kickboxing Academy standout in a position to make 2014 his most successful year as a mixed martial artist to date.
While the stresses of a Top 10 matchup in the main event slot are considerable, he welcomes them, and he said that this pressure will not inhibit his performance inside the Octagon.
"Mentally, it's always stressful, but as soon as you're in the cage, it goes away," he said. "You don't have time to think about it."