Viewers Guide to the Undercard: UFC Fight Night 35 – Rockhold vs. Philippou

The UFC continues it’s fairly low key start to 2014 with another Fight Night card, however this one does carry a little more juice than UFC Singapore did going in. Headlining this event from Duluth, Georgia is a middleweight bout between Luke Rockhold and Costa Philippou, with both men looking to get their title charge back up and running again having faltered in 2013. Serving as the co-main for the evening is another middleweight bout with Lorenz Larkin taking on Brad Tavares. The rest of the card is rounded out by bantamweights TJ Dillashaw and Mike Easton; middleweights Yoel Romero and Derek Brunson; flyweights John Moraga and Dustin Ortiz; and featherweights Cole Miller and Sam Sicilia.

Now, onto the prelims…

Ramsey Nijem vs. Justin Edwards – 155lbs.
The Ultimate Fighter season 13 runner-up, Ramsey Nijem has had a mixed UFC career so far. After losing out to Tony Ferguson in the finale back in 2011, Nijem went on to record three straight victories inside the Octagon but things have taken a turn for the worse recently with The Pit trained fighter suffering back-to-back losses for the first time in his career. Nijem was last seen in August losing out to James Vick via submission in the first round.

Like Nijem, Justin Edwards has had a stuttering UFC career with ‘Fast Eddie’ alternating wins and losses in his five Octagon appearances compiling a 2-3 UFC record so far. Having secured his highest profile triumph back in October 2012 with a submission victory over Josh Neer, Edwards was unable to capitalise on this momentum and would go down to rising star Brandon Thatch last time out which has prompted this drop in weight from 170lbs to the lightweight division.

Nijem will look to attack with his wrestling base, but that doesn’t mean that Edwards can afford to sleep on Nijem’s striking as while it is not exactly refined, Nijem does possess power. Edwards will want to get this one to the mat to work his stronger submission game, but unfortunately for Edwards, I see Nijem having the wherewithal to prevent Edwards from locking anything too serious in.

Prediction – Nijem via unanimous decision.

Isaac Vallie-Flagg vs. Elias Silverio – 155lbs.
After a slow start to his career where he went 3-3 over his first 6 fights, Isaac Vallie-Flagg has remained undefeated since 2007 and is showing his capabilities as a mixed martial artist on the biggest stage possible. After a successful 2-0 run in Strikeforce, Vallie-Flagg was brought over in the UFC-Strikeforce merger and was successful in his last, and only fight in the UFC so far; a split decision victory over Yves Edwards back at UFC 156.

Elias Silverio stepped up on late notice in his last bout against Joao Zeferino and was able to capitalise on this opportunity, taking home a unanimous decision victory back in September at UFC Fight Night 28.

Both men are pretty capable on the feet with Silverio perhaps the more polished striker, and it is unlikely that either man will look to take this one to the ground. For me, I think this will be decided due to external factors rather than directly as a result of either man’s faults or favours. Vallie-Flagg has not competed in nearly a year and Silverio will be making his first cut to 155lbs from 170lbs and should have the size advantage over a likely rusty Vallie-Flagg.

Prediction – Silverio via unanimous decision.

Alptekin Ozkilic vs. Louis Smolka – 125lbs.
Ozkilic made his promotional debut last time out having performed admirably on the regional circuit collecting a series of wins, including one over UFC-vet Antonio Banuelos. Ozkilic was paired off with Darren Uyenoyama for his UFC bow, with the duo fighting a tightly contested bout with Ozkilic taking home the split decision.

Louis Smolka has made a blistering start to his professional MMA career, triumphing in all six of his fights having only turned pro less than two years ago. Smolka was last seen competing under the PXC banner where he captured their flyweight title by TKO’ing Ale Cali in the second round back in November.

Both men will know that in a division as shallow as Flyweight and with a champion as dominant as Demetrious Johnson, that if they are able to string together a few wins, title talk will not be too far away. Smolka will hold the submission advantage over Ozkilic, however I can’t see Smolka having the required ability to drag Ozkilic to the mat and it’s likely that Ozkilic will control the stand-up portion of the fight and should be able to dictate where the fight goes en route to a decision victory.

Prediction – Ozkilic via unanimous decision.

Charlie Brenneman vs. Beneil Dariush – 155lbs.
Brenneman appears to have used his time away from the UFC wisely, having strung together a four-fight winning streak which included capturing the CFFC Lightweight Championship in his most recent bout. Having been cut from the promotion in 2012, Brenneman jumped at the chance to return in this short notice bout, having replaced the injured Jason High.

Darisuh will be making his UFC debut when he enters the Octagon this Wednesday night. Training out of Kings MMA, which houses Jake Ellenberger, Wanderlei Silva and Shogun Rua, Dariush is undefeated in his career so far having compiled a 6-0 record on the regional circuit.

Brenneman has serviceable wrestling but will often neglect this skill in favour of a brawling approach which has worked for and against him in the past. Dariush is an accomplished BJJ player and will look to take Brenneman to the mat when he can to work his submission game. The X factor in this fight is Dariush’s striking, if he can hang with Brenneman long enough on the feet then he has an opportunity to outwork his opponent and lock in a late submission, which I think he will.

Prediction – Darisuh via submission in the 3rd round.

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