UFC middleweight Luke Rockhold
UFC Fight Night 35 went down Wednesday night from Duluth, Ga.
Any fight card that happens in the middle of the week—and begins while most of the East Coast is still at work—is probably going to struggle for eyeballs and attention. But if you missed this card, you missed a pretty good slate of fights.
The headliner was a battle between two middleweight contenders looking to get back on track in Costa Philippou and Strikeforce transplant Luke Rockhold. But there was intrigue all up and down the main card, and the final stat line only reveals so much. Here are grades for every main card performance from Duluth.
Result: Cole Miller def. Sam Sicilia by submission (rear-naked choke), 1:54, Rd. 2
Outstanding performance from Miller Wednesday night. Here's a guy who uses his size advantage perfectly, staying out of Sicilia's power range and working his jab and low-kick game to score.
About halfway through the second round, Miller dropped Sicilia with a heavy right, and he knew what to do from there. This is the 13th time he's choked out an opponent; his last two victories both came by the RNC.
Miller's been talking a lot of smack, basically toward any fighter he thinks might take the bait. One of those fighters is Conor McGregor. I believe I'd watch that fight.
Sam Sicilia is going to Sam Sicilia. He came out in his usual headhunting mode. He connected once or twice with those big, winging punches, but never anything clean enough to swing the bout in his favor.
Ultimately, he had no answer for Miller's reach advantage, and that told the tale. Sicilia is a likable fighter who will always have the old puncher's chance, but that's about it.
Result: John Moraga def. Dustin Ortiz by split decision
This was a much better fight than some anticipated. But Ortiz is a very good fighter and pushed Moraga to turn in his best performance.
After a first round largely spent playing defense, Moraga really settled in during the second and started landing that curtain-closing right hand with authority.
Moraga had the edge on the feet, while Ortiz had the ground advantage. No big shock there. The judges' decision probably could have gone either way; it went to Moraga.
Ortiz did a great job of returning fire on Moraga's big blows and, when the action went horizontal, controlling his opponent and staying busy. It's not hard to make or understand the case for Ortiz winning the fight.
That's not to say it was a robbery or anything—fair's fair. As for Ortiz, he's now 1-1 in the UFC, but he's still only 25 years old and has two impressive performances under his belt. He's established himself as a rock-solid undercard addition, at a bare minimum.
Result: Yoel Romero def. Derek Brunson by TKO, 3:23, Rd. 3
I believe the correct spelling is aye-yi-yiiiiii.
The lumbering middleweight bowling ball come to life may have established himself as a legitimate force in the 185-pound division. But not before Brunson fully controlled the action for about 12 minutes.
Those last 30 seconds were all that mattered in the record books, though. A heavy punch dropped Brunson like a stone. Brunson looked to be done soon after, turtling up under a brutal and protracted ground-striking onslaught that involved some brutal elbows.
Though it wasn't his very best performance, Romero still arrived because of this fight. He's a load for anyone, and I imagine the line of willing challengers is Khabib Nurmagomedov short.
Brunson fought well for much of the bout. He's a good fighter and he's nobody's fool, rightly staying evasive while putting his own gloves on Romero.
Brunson also held a decided grappling advantage on the world-class wrestler, going 3-5 on takedown attempts while staving off all four of Romero's, according to FightMetric.
In the end, it was just one mistake. But as we know, that's all it takes.
Result: T.J. Dillashaw def. Mike Easton by unanimous decision
Dillashaw continues to ride the Alpha Male wave of resurgence. His striking is better every time he steps out there, and he punished Easton throughout, bloodying the Washington D.C. native in a fight that was fun but not especially close.
Dillashaw did a particularly good job of letting the fight come to him, as it were. While Easton was often the more aggressive fighter, Dillashaw took his time, picked his spots and made them count.
Give credit to Easton for being the tough, game, aggressive veteran fight fans know so well. But let's also be honest: He was fully overmatched Wednesday night against Dillashaw.
Nothing seemed to work for Easton. Takedown shots went begging. His striking was certainly ill-intentioned, but it was wild and inaccurate. Despite the fact that he threw more than 100 fewer strikes than Dillashaw, he still ended up with nearly 10 percent worse accuracy, according to FightMetric.
This is three UFC defeats in a row for the veteran. He's still a very good fighter, but he wasn't better Wednesday—far from it.
Result: Brad Tavares def. Lorenz Larkin by unanimous decision
A win as uninspiring as it was convincing. That's not always an easy combination to pull off.
Early and often, Tavares tenderized Larkin with leg and body kicks. He was never able to get anything else working, including an oft-failed takedown shot and some tepid submission attempts, but he didn't really need to. Larkin had no answer for the kicks, and that's what cinched it for the underdog.
It's hard to believe Tavares has been in the UFC for more than three years, given that he's only 26. It's equally hard to believe he's 7-1 during that run. But here we are, and Tavares deserves respect.
It was a recurring theme from the evening's main card: Some guys just couldn't get going.
Larkin was just pure failure-to-launch against Tavares. He could never seem to put anything together. When he did land something, which was infrequent, there was no effective follow-up.
He did show solid takedown defense and hit on some potent strikes, including a big uppercut late in the action. But the 27-year-old is now 2-2 in the UFC and will need to do better if he wants to live up to the hype that followed him over from Strikeforce.
Result: Luke Rockhold def. Costa Philippou by KO (body kick), 2:31, Rd. 1
Rockhold secured his first UFC victory with a ball-peen liver kick that dropped a very tough Philippou like a bag of old newspapers.
It was the kind of explosive, uber-athletic, smart-missile attack that made everyone a Rockhold fan in the first place. Good on him for getting a signature win in a signature fashion.
Aside from the fight-ending kick, nothing much happened beyond an extended feeling-out process. Philippou did land one solid right hand while the two were along the fence, but, uh, yeah.
Hard to fault him too much here; that strike would have dropped a rhinoceros. He paid his dues over a long period of time and clawed his way to the top. Fairly or no, Philippou may now face an extended period of free fall.