UFC Fight Night 35 went down Wednesday night from Duluth, Ga. In the main event, Luke Rockhold and Costa Philippou did battle to see which of the two middleweight contenders could get back on track after a previous defeat.
The answer? Luke Rockhold.
The former Strikeforce champion landed a laser-guided liver kick that dropped Philippou and kept him dropped. An academic soccer kick landed to Philippou's midsection as referee Herb Dean arrived to call a stop to the action. The official result was Rockhold by KO at two minutes, 31 seconds of the very first round.
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 he mounted no significant offense outside of that single blow. But it is difficult to fault Philippou, as that strike probably would have dropped any middleweight.
Philippou has paid his dues over a long period of time and clawed his way to the top. Fairly or not, Philippou may now face an extended fall in the rankings. He is still one of the better fighters in the division, but after losing a close fight to Francis Carmont in September and now to Rockhold, his precise place within the ranks is unclear.
Despite the win, Rockhold's place also is slightly uncertain. In the cage after the victory, Rockhold called out two men: Vitor Belfort and Michael Bisping. Vitor Belfort defeated Rockhold in their last bout by way of a spectacular head-kick knockout, so it stands to reason Rockhold would covet a rematch.
However, Belfort is currently tied to a title bout with champion Chris Weidman, and despite the impressive win Wednesday it is not readily apparent that Rockhold has earned his way into the division's uppermost echelon. A rematch could and probably should happen at some point, but it doesn't seem likely that it would be a near-term engagement.
As for Bisping, he is tied to Tim Kennedy and has a long line of would-be challengers outside of that. The mouthy Brit is always a popular call-out—not to mention a very good fighter—and would make a good foil for the stoic Rockhold, but that, too, does not appear in the immediate cards.
Rockhold may instead need to look to the winner between Lyoto Machida and Gegard Mousasi or between Ronaldo Souza and Francis Carmont. Each fight takes place Feb. 15 at UFC Fight Night 36.