UFC

UFC Fight Night 35: Main Card Staff Predictions

Scott HarrisFeatured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2014

UFC Fight Night 35: Main Card Staff Predictions

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    UFC middleweight contender Luke Rockhold
    UFC middleweight contender Luke RockholdScott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

    UFC Fight Night 35 goes down Wednesday from Duluth, Ga. And I know what you're thinking; a midweek fight card? Must be a stinker. I'll be catching up on Downton Abbey instead, thank you very much.

    And look, I get it. It can be tough in the middle of the week. And the thoughtful character arcs and elegant set and costume designs of Downton Abbey are really second to none. 

    But you know what? If you miss Fight Night 35, you miss a pretty good fight card. No, maybe it's not pay-per-view-caliber, but it's also definitely not pay-per-view expensive. It's free on Fox Sports 1. 

    To help get you primed and ready, here are main card breakdowns and staff predictions from some of Bleacher Report MMA's very finest staff members. Riley "Kobra" Kontek. James "The Athlete" MacDonald. Craig "Cookie" Amos. Sean "Salmon" Smith. And myself, Scott Harris. Let's get it on.

2014 Staff Records

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Riley Kontek (3-1)

    Scott Harris (3-1)

    Craig Amos (2-2)

    James MacDonald (2-2)

    Sean Smith (2-2)

Cole Miller vs. Sam Sicilia

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    Cole Miller
    Cole MillerWinslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    Riley Kontek

    Cole Miller is looking to resurge on the scene, something that has been start-stall since his drop to 145. However, he is taking on an outmatched opponent here in Sam Sicilia, who won't offer anything that Miller hasn't seen before.

    Miller, Submission, Rd. 1

     

    Craig Amos

    Sicilia will always carry knockout power with him into the octagon, but the more he fights, the more it looks like that's all he carries. Miller, on the other hand, is a well-rounded guy with particularly dangerous submissions, which he may use to collect another victory.

    Miller, Submission, Rd. 2

     

    James MacDonald

    This looks like it could be a bit of a mismatch. Sicilia is a middling The Ultimate Fighter veteran who hasn’t really shown that he belongs in the UFC. Miller may be a somewhat limited fighter, but he has enough tools and experience to earn consecutive wins for the first time since 2010.

    Miller, Submission, Rd. 2

     

    Sean Smith

    With 14 submission wins on his record, Miller might be one of the more underrated grapplers in the featherweight division. So, having been tapped by much lesser competition, Sicilia may avoid going to the ground on Wednesday. With a sizeable reach advantage, "Magrinho" causes trouble for Sicilia when standing also, though. Having a tendency to wing punches, Sicilia might be beaten by Miller's jab and solid chin.

    Miller, Unanimous decision

     

    Scott Harris

    I love the way Miller uses his length to grapple. It doesn't always need to be just a reach advantage. His game stands in contrast to Sicilias's shoot-em-up-and-let-Dana-sort-em-out style. In this case, the smarter fighter is the better fighter.

    Miller, Unanimous decision

John Moraga vs. Dustin Ortiz

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    John Moraga
    John MoragaGary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Kontek

    John Moraga is looking to rebound from his title loss to Demetrious Johnson against Dustin Ortiz, who makes his second UFC appearance. Ortiz was being handily defeated in his last fight against Jose Maria Tome, but came back and finished the Brazilian, showing great resilience. That won't happen against an aggressive, skilled all-around fighter in Moraga, who will hurt Ortiz and eventually finish him.

    Moraga, TKO, Rd. 2

     

    Amos

    Ortiz picked up a nice victory in his Octagon debut last year, but he takes a massive step up in competition this Wednesday night. Moraga, who is coming off a date with the sensational Demetrious Johnson, is simply at a higher level, and will step over Ortiz as he moves back into the win column.

    Moraga, Unanimous decision

    MacDonald

    It’s hard for me to imagine Moraga losing this fight. While Ortiz is a decent fighter, he isn’t in the class of the former flyweight-title contender. Look for the 29-year-old to end the fight early.

    Moraga, TKO, Rd. 1

     

    Smith

    Moraga's title fight with Demetrious Johnson came too early. While "Mighty Mouse" was able to take Moraga down at will, Ortiz is not at the champion's level when it comes to wrestling and should be forced to stand with the former title challenger much more than Johnson was. Although Ortiz has never been stopped, Moraga is a big step up for him and has a scary combination of power and aggressiveness that is somewhat uncommon in the flyweight division. 

    Moraga, TKO, Rd. 1

     

    Harris

    I like Moraga as much as the next guy, but I loved what I saw from Ortiz in his UFC debut in November. True, Moraga isn't Jose Maria Tome, but I like Ortiz's well-rounded game, especially when considering Moraga can be taken down. And sure, Moraga is aggressive, but so is Ortiz. Sound the upset alarms.

    Ortiz, Unanimous decision

Yoel Romero vs. Derek Brunson

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    Yoel Romero
    Yoel RomeroJoshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

    Kontek

    Yoel Romero is in his late 30s, but looks like a new force of destruction that could make the middleweight division even more interesting. Derek Brunson's bread and butter is the wrestling game, but Romero is an Olympic medalist in wrestling and probably more physically strong. On the feet, it will be competitive, but Romero's power should prevail.

    Romero, TKO, Rd. 2

     

    Amos

    Both Romero and Brunson are coming off of impressive wins, so whoever gets a W here will be carrying some real momentum. I think it'll be Romero who does it, though. The Cuban's obscene power can never be overlooked, and the way he overcame a grinder like Ronny Markes last November is truly impressive. He'll take out Brunson and earn himself a more high-profile fight this summer.

    Romero, TKO, Rd. 2

     

    MacDonald

    Yoel Romero is a strange fighter to watch. His bizarre upper body movement makes him look like he’s being controlled by a snake charmer. The former Olympic freestyle wrestler is very effective, though. He looked outstanding last time out against Ronny Markes. Derek Brunson has bitten off more than he can chew here.

    Romero, TKO, Rd. 2

     

    Smith 

    This looks like an awful matchup for Brunson on paper. While he showed some improved striking in his latest bout with Brian Houston, Brunson has usually been dependent on his ground game against high-level competition. An Olympic medalist in freestyle wrestling, Romero isn't going to give up many takedowns and has very dangerous knockout power.

    Romero, KO, Rd. 1

     

    Harris

    I'm frightened by you, Yoel Romero. You're like if Dr. Frankenstein made a man out of bowling balls. YOU'RE ALIIIIIIIIVE! Yes, you're 36 years old, but you're also only seven fights into your pro career. Every single one of your fights, every single one, has ended in a knockout. I think you'll overwhelm another good fighter in Brunson and tear off and devour another rung on the ladder, as we all watch, horrified.

    Romero, KO, Rd. 2

T.J. Dillashaw vs. Mike Easton

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    T.J. Dillashaw
    T.J. DillashawJason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

    Kontek

    T.J. Dillashaw was on the fast track to title contention before the judges tore away a win against Raphael Assunção. He now must rebuild himself up against a game, athletic Mike Easton. On the feet Dillashaw has drastically improved to a point where he may be better than Easton. On the ground, he is vastly superior, where he should score a finish.

    Dillashaw, Submission, Rd. 2

     

    Amos

    The once-hyped Mike Easton is in desperate need of a victory following two straight defeats. Unfortunately, a win won't come easy this Wednesday night, as he'll be in tough against the up-and-coming Dillashaw. While I think "The Hulk" can hold hold out for the full 15, I don't think any of the ringside judges will give him their favor.

    Dillashaw, Unanimous decision

     

    MacDonald

    One could argue that Dillashaw should be on a five-fight winning streak, having dropped a debatable decision to Raphael Assunção. The Team Alpha Male standout looks every inch a future contender at 135 pounds. I’m not sure what to make of Mike Easton, given that he so often flatters to deceive. “The Hulk” looks the part, but seems too content to stalk his opponents, without ever really doing anything else. This is Dillashaw’s fight to lose.

    Dillashaw, Unanimous decision

     

    Smith

    Consecutive losses to Raphael Assunção and Brad Pickett should have bounced Mike Easton from Top 10 competition for now. Instead, he finds himself in a matchup with another elite bantamweight in Dillashaw. While Dillashaw also lost to Assunção recently, he looked to be much more on par with Brazilian and seems to be improving more rapidly than Easton. 

    Dillashaw, Unanimous decision

     

    Harris

    I am amused by the demographics of this match: the blonde California kid versus the hard-nosed veteran from Southeast D.C. And you know what? I think the veteran pulls the upset. He was just a faulty takedown away from upsetting Brad Pickett in his last contest. This will start as a striking match, with Easton staying more composed, then dirtying it up down the stretch. Sound those alarms, baby.

    Easton, Split decision

Lorenz Larkin vs. Brad Tavares

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    Lorenz Larkin
    Lorenz LarkinJoshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

    Kontek

    Brad Tavares has improved tenfold since his time on TUF 11. He has turned from a green brawler to a good all-around fighter that could be a staple of the middleweight division for time to come. However, he is running into a buzzsaw Muay Thai striker in Lorenz Larkin who is going to batter the Hawaiian's legs and throw home run punches at his head. Tavares is as tough as nails, so he should survive to have his heart broken by the judges.

    Larkin, Unanimous decision

     

    Amos 

    Knowing that there is a lot of uniformity to the Bleacher Report main card picks this time around, I'm tempted to take Tavares here in an upset. Problem is, I don't believe he's going to win. Oh, it could happen—with improved striking and solid wrestling, he is a threat. But he hasn't blown me away lately, whereas Larkin has looked good against higher-level competition. Guess I'll just slide in another favorite here.

    Larkin, Unanimous decision

     

    MacDonald

    It’s nice to see Tavares getting a shot on the main card. The Hawaiian is criminally underrated, having transformed himself into a legitimate mixed martial artist since his time on TUF. Larkin is a bit of a wildcard. It’s hard to know what to expect from him, besides some flashy techniques. He can look like a world-beater when on his game, so the outcome may depend on which Lorenz Larkin actually shows up. I’m putting my money on the more well-rounded Tavares, though.

    Tavares, Unanimous decision

     

    Smith

    Had it not been for a debatable decision loss to Francis Carmont, Larkin might have been a win or two away from a title shot right now. Instead, the Strikeforce veteran is on gatekeeping duty against rising The Ultimate Fighter veteran Tavares. While Tavares' striking has played a large role in his rise through the middleweight ranks, he'll have trouble beating Larkin when standing. Having beaten welterweight contender Robbie Lawler and another TUF alumnus, Chris Camozzi, with his kickboxing, Larkin should have an edge over Tavares on his feet and won't be taken down easily, having stuffed 82 percent of takedown attempts he's seen inside the Octagon.

    Larkin, Unanimous decision

     

    Harris

    I like this matchup. It should be interesting to watch no matter where it goes. I believe Tavares has overachieved during his UFC tenure, while Larkin has, for various reasons, not yet broken out in a manner on par with his potential. Both are due for a market correction and will get it Wednesday night.

    Larkin, Unanimous decision

Luke Rockhold vs. Costa Philippou

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    Costa Philippou
    Costa PhilippouGary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Kontek

    The main event is actually a great matchup. Both guys like to bang on the feet and should put on a good show. The difference is that Rockhold is used to five-round preparations because he used to be champion Strikeforce. Not only that, but he also has solid wrestling, the kryptonite of Mr. Philippou. Rockhold will mix up his kickboxing and takedowns, which should be enough to score him a victory.

    Rockhold, Unanimous decision

     

    Amos

    Rockhold's first foray into the UFC didn't exactly go as planned, thanks to the TRT-powered Vitor Belfort. He should make good on attempt No. 2 though, as he enters his bout with Philippou as the more well-rounded guy. After seeing how badly Philippou struggled against the wrestling of Francis Carmont, Rockhold's game plan is laid out nice and neat for him. And should something from that plan go awry, Rockhold has the chops to weather things on the feet.

    Rockhold, Unanimous decision

     

    MacDonald

    This promises to be a terrific fight. Both men excel on the feet, but for my money Rockhold is the more complete fighter. While Philippou’s grappling has certainly improved beyond recognition since he first entered the UFC, he’s still a little vulnerable in that area of the game. That being said, I don’t expect Rockhold to be shooting many doubles. Rather, the former Strikeforce middleweight champion’s superior cardio should see him to a close decision win.

    Rockhold, Unanimous decision

     

    Smith

    These middleweights had long winning streaks ended in their most recent outings. Philippou's loss was much more damaging to title hopes than Rockhold's, though. It showed he has still not made the necessary improvements on his defensive wrestling to make a serious run at the 185-pound championship. Having taken down Tim Kennedy and a training partner with some of MMA's best wrestlers at American Kickboxing Academy, Rockhold is capable of taking advantage of the holes in Philippou's takedown defense and can use his reach to avoid the Cyprus-born fighter's power when standing. 

    Rockhold, Unanimous decision

     

    Harris

    I'm a Costa Philippou guy. The proverbial heart will be pulling for him on Wednesday. But I can't pick him here. Just can't. Until further notice, he doesn't have the takedown defense or ground game to stave off a stud like Rockhold, who will grind his way to a uninspiring but convincing victory.

    Rockhold, Unanimous decision

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