UFC Fight Night 35 took off live from Duluth, Ga., Wednesday evening, bringing a fight card stacked with interesting and entertaining matchups to the MMA faithful across the globe.
While the card—which was headlined by Luke Rockhold and Costas Philippou—left plenty to be desired in terms of name recognition, the fights developed as high-octane, action-packed affairs that brought the audience inside the Arena at Gwinnett Center to its feet.
On paper, there is only room for one winner and loser in any given matchup in the sport of MMA, but we know better than that.
There are moral victories, and occasionally a fighter can raise his or her stock simply by performing exceptionally well or by doing something unexpected and spectacular inside the cage.
Click on to see the real winners and losers from UFC Fight Night 35.
Note: All GIFs contained within the slideshow courtesy of Zombie Prophet (@ZProphet_MMA).
Before the action commenced on Fox Sports 1, UFC Fight Night 35 featured two early preliminary bouts on UFC Fight Pass.
If you didn't see the first of these, you missed out on an insanely impressive Octagon debut.
Returning Octagon veteran Charlie Brenneman and undefeated UFC newcomer Beneil Dariush kicked off the night's action, and the new kid on the block made an immediate splash inside the 155-pound division.
After flooring Brenneman with a hard left hand, Dariush pounced on his injured prey and finished the fight just one minute, 45 seconds into Round 1. The win was spectacular.
Remember that "moral victories" spiel I gave you in the opening slide?
That applies here.
Flyweights Alptekin Ozkilic and Louis Smolka fought three back-and-forth rounds on Fox Sports 1's opening prelim, showcasing everything that is beautiful about the sport of MMA.
While Smolka took home the decision victory in his UFC debut, both men displayed the heart and well-rounded skill set needed to compete at the game's highest level.
There were vicious striking exchanges, slick grappling battles and a bit of that wonderful "I'm tired, but I can't give up" mentality that oozes from the sport's finest competitors.
This fight was super fun, and both men take a step forward in my book after engaging in an entertaining 15-minute affair.
Sam Sicilia took on Cole Miller in the UFC Fight Night 35 main card's opening bout.
It was the most high-profile fight of Sicilia's career, and it was a fight that could have propelled him toward the top 15 of the featherweight division.
He completely crumbled.
Showing nothing but a winging, wild right hand, Sicilia mounted no offense against Miller, and the lanky American Top Team product secured the victory in Round 2 with a textbook rear-naked choke.
With the finish, Miller definitively bested Sicilia on the feet and on the ground, proving that he was a cut above the former The Ultimate Fighter: Live competitor.
Sicilia could not get going, and the win proved that he is not ready for the 145-pound elite just yet.
In the previous slide, I talked about Cole Miller's emphatic victory over Sam Sicilia, but that's not the only reason he's a big winner this evening.
After the fight, Miller had some words with UFC President Dana White, telling his boss "I'm a top-10 featherweight." Then, Miller took the microphone and called out Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone in his post-fight interview.
Fighters need to make every second of air time count, and that's exactly what Miller did.
Kudos to him on making the world mention his name long after the fight-ending tap.
Derek Brunson was two-and-a-half minutes away from turning a corner in his MMA career.
Taking on a former Olympic wrestler in Yoel Romero, Brunson showed off a polished arsenal of attacks inside the Octagon.
He took Romero down. He held him down. He secured full mount. He kicked him in the head. He elbowed him in the dome.
...And he lost the fight.
Brunson got rocked late, and Romero swarmed with a series of brutal elbows to the body once the fight hit the ground, forcing the referee to intervene and halt the match.
Unfortunately for Brunson, that's the fight game for you. It can all change in an instant, and Romero capitalized:
Brunson was half a round away from thoroughly out-wrestling, out-striking and out MMA-ing the best wrestler in the UFC. It's a cruel sport.— RJ Clifford (@RJcliffordMMA) January 16, 2014
That's heart, ladies and gentlemen.
Romero was thoroughly outclassed by Brunson throughout this bout, but he dug deep, landed a vicious left hand and swarmed with a follow-up barrage that left his foe bloodied, beaten and finished.
The elbows to the body that eventually forced the referee's hand were nasty, and they cemented the fact that Romero can end a fight in a flash with a wide variety of strikes.
The dude is dangerous at any point in a fight from any angle with any limb.
Oh, and he made history while doing it, according to FightMetric research analyst Michael Carroll. Nicely done.
In addition, Yoel Romero is the first fighter in UFC history to earn two consecutive KO/TKO victories in the 3rd round. #UFCFightNight— Michael Carroll (@MJCflipdascript) January 16, 2014
I apologize for this slide.
Look, it's unclear whether or not Yoel Romero soiled himself against Derek Brunson, but this GIF kind of speaks for itself, don't you think?
It could be a concentrated pool of sweat, I suppose, but it's almost too concentrated in my eyes.
On the bright side, this is not an isolated event. Tim Sylvia did it against Assuerio Silva, and even current UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman has admitted to losing control a bit during training, according to Ariel Helwani of MMA Fighting:
If Romero did in fact soil himself, that's nothing to be ashamed of. 185 champ Weidman recently said he did so while sparring w/ Villante.— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) January 16, 2014
TJ Dillashaw did not find the finish against Mike Easton Wednesday evening, but he dominated the bout and bested his opponent in all facets of the game.
After a disappointing split-decision loss to Raphael Assuncao that silenced his claim for a shot at the bantamweight title, Dillashaw went back to work and showed us all why he is one of the finest 135-pound fighters on the planet.
I expect a high-profile contender's bout in his next trip to the Octagon.
I thought this was going to be the Fight of the Night.
Lorenz Larkin looked tentative and sloppy against Brad Tavares at UFC Fight Night 35.
Larkin—the No. 13 middleweight in the UFC—needed a big win to solidify his claim for a top-10 spot in his division, but his performance was completely uninspired in Rounds 1 and 2, costing him the fight on the judges' scorecards.
Despite coming on strong in Round 3, Larkin dug himself an early hole and banished himself to the depths of the 185-pound division with a lackluster 10 minutes of fighting Wednesday evening.
In MMA, 10 minutes can make or break a career, and Larkin did not make the most of his time inside the Octagon.
He will suffer the consequences and slip down the ever-crowding middleweight ladder.
Tavares, on the other hand, stands as a loser for different reasons.
The Hawaiian was overly calculated and controlled inside the Octagon, and he never actively pursued a finish.
While this game plan led to a clear-cut victory, Tavares needed a signature, dominant win to catapult himself into the top 15 of the division.
His performance against Larkin did not give us any reason to believe in him as a contender, and for that, Tavares lost out on a huge opportunity in the night's co-main event.
Luke Rockhold knows how to rebound from a loss.
After being stopped by Vitor Belfort in his UFC debut, Rockhold seized the moment in the UFC Fight Night 35 main event and dropped No. 10 middleweight Costas Philippou with a ferocious left kick to the liver.
From the bout's onset, Rockhold looked bigger, faster, stronger and sharper than his foe, and his dominance culminated with one swift flick of the hips.
The kick crumpled Philippou, and the deed was done.
That was a perfect performance by Rockhold, and a tangle with a top-five opponent is almost guaranteed in his near future.
UFC Fight Night 35 Main Card:
- Luke Rockhold defeats Costas Philippou via TKO (body kick), Round 1
- Brad Tavares defeats Lorenz Larkin via unanimous decision
- TJ Dillashaw defeats Mike Easton via unanimous decision
- Yoel Romero defeats Derek Brunson via TKO (elbows to the body), Round 3
- John Moraga defeats Dustin Ortiz via unanimous decision
- Cole Miller defeats Sam Sicilia via submission (rear-naked choke), Round 2
UFC Fight Night 35 Prelims:
- Ramsey Nijem defeats Justin Edwards via unanimous decision
- Elias Silverio defeats Isaac Vallie-Flagg via unanimous decision
- Trevor Smith defeats Brian Houston via split decision
- Louis Smolka defeats Alp Ozkilic via unanimous decision
UFC Fight Night 35 Online Prelims:
- Beneil Dariush defeats Charlie Brenneman via submission (rear-naked choke), Round 1
- Vinc Pichel defeats Garett Whiteley via unanimous decision