Luke Rockhold was not eased into UFC competition in 2013.
The former Strikeforce middleweight champion was welcomed to the Octagon by Vitor Belfort in May. Rockhold traveled all the way to Brazil only to have a spinning heel kick slammed into his head in the first round.
At UFC Fight Night 35, Rockhold will attempt to pick up his first UFC victory, as he battled injuries through the remainder of 2013 and has not fought since debuting at UFC on FX 8. Standing between the American Kickboxing Academy fighter and a return to the win column will be Costas Philippou.
Following a key win over Tim Boetsch, Philippou's run toward the top of the middleweight class hit a speed bump at UFC 165, where he was taken down multiple times by Francis Carmont and beaten in a decision.
Will Rockhold or Philippou jump back in the race for a title shot in the 185-pound class?
Here is a closer look at how the UFC Fight Night 35 headliners match up in all areas.
Costas Philippou has mostly gotten to where he is in the middleweight division with his striking. A former boxer, knockouts of Tim Boetsch and Jared Hamman were important steps in the Cyprus native's rise into title contention.
Although he began his Strikeforce career with five consecutive submissions, Luke Rockhold has fallen in love with his striking recently. That came back to bite him in his UFC debut, which ended in a knockout loss to Vitor Belfort at UFC on FX 8.
While Philippou is the more experienced striker in this matchup, Rockhold owns an important reach advantage and can utilize his wrestling to close the stand-up gap.
If he gets baited into a striking match with Philippou, Rockhold will have a tough time pulling away on the scorecards. However, should the former Strikeforce champion keep Philippou thinking about defending takedowns, he'll be able to find some openings when standing.
Rockhold's game plan will decide how the striking aspect of this matchup unfolds.
Luke Rockhold faced 12 takedown attempts against Tim Kennedy under the Strikeforce banner and stuffed 12 of them en route to a decision win. Against Costas Philippou, who hasn't scored a takedown since 2011, Rockhold shouldn't have to worry about being stuck on bottom.
Philippou, on the other hand, should be more concerned about defending takedowns than anything.
In his past six rounds inside the Octagon, Philippou has been grounded seven times. Opposite mid-level competition, Philippou was able to sprawl-and-brawl his way into title contention. However, highly ranked middleweights have given the former boxer fits on the ground.
Previously a Serra-Longo Fight Team member, Philippou had the opportunity to work his wrestling with middleweight champion Chris Weidman. Now training at Bellmore Kickboxing Academy, though, Philippou's progression toward becoming a well-rounded fighter may be stalling.
Having shut down 73 percent of takedowns he's faced inside the Octagon, Philippou isn't going to be taken down at will. However, against an opponent at Rockhold's skill level, Philippou will be taken down too often to get his striking going.
Having never been submitted, Costas Philippou isn't inept on the ground. Still, against Luke Rockhold, he's not likely to have much success in the grappling area.
Philippou is not known as a fighter with good top control, and Rockhold escaped from the bottom position multiple times against world-class jiu-jitsu practitioner Ronaldo Souza. Should Philippou end up on top of Rockhold at all, he may avoid submissions, but he's not going to threaten with much offensively.
Conversely, Rockhold has the potential to dominate this fight from the top for three rounds. Against Francis Carmont, Philippou spent 12 minutes on the bottom in a 15-minute bout.
A fighter who trains with many high-level wrestlers at American Kickboxing Academy, Rockhold can follow Carmont's blueprint all the way to a decision win at UFC Fight Night 35.
Luke Rockhold and Costas Philippou were both relatively inactive throughout 2013.
The former only competed in a May loss to Vitor Belfort, while Philippou was defeated by Francis Carmont in his lone 2013 appearance in September. Only out of action less than four months, though, Philippou may be fresher than Rockhold, who has spent nearly eight months outside the Octagon.
Still, a more important advantage goes to Rockhold.
Heading into this five-round contest, Philippou has never seen a fourth stanza. As a former Strikeforce champion, Rockhold has gone 25 minutes multiple times and looked excellent in doing so.
As this fight drags on, Rockhold's proven conditioning could become an important factor.
In this matchup, Luke Rockhold will really only be in danger when standing.
As long as he establishes his wrestling as a threat early on, Rockhold can prevent Costas Philippou from getting comfortable when standing. A longer reach and more diverse striking arsenal will then allow Rockhold to avoid the punch-heavy offense he'll see from Philippou.
If Rockhold wants to make a statement in this appearance, he'd be wise to do so on the ground. The former Strikeforce champion will have a huge advantage on the ground, and he should look to keep this fight horizontal as much as he can.
A submission win isn't out of the question, but expect Rockhold to take this one on the scorecards.
Rockhold defeats Philippou by decision.
Statistics via FightMetric.com.