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The UFC will once again descend upon Georgia with an edition of UFC Fight Night, this time featuring former Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold against Costas Philippou in the main event, while two more 185-pound contenders battle it out in the co-featured bout, as Lorenz Larkin looks for his second win in the Octagon when he takes on former Ultimate Fighter competitor Brad Tavares.
The main card is stacked deep with six bouts airing on FOX Sports 1, so there's no shortage of great fights, but as we take a look at the UFC Pick Em fantasy preview for this week there are also some very close matchups taking place.
From the main event all the way to the first fight of the night there aren't a lot of easy choices, but we will break things down and see who has the advantage once the Octagon door closes on Wednesday night.
LUKE ROCKHOLD (-400 FAVORITE) VS. COSTAS PHILIPPOU (+325 UNDERDOG)
The only vision a lot of UFC fans have of Luke Rockhold is when he got snuffed out by a spinning head kick courtesy of Vitor Belfort in his debut, but that was definitely not the impression he's likely to leave in his second trip to the Octagon. When Rockhold was in Strikeforce he was the best middleweight on the roster, picking up wins over notable names like Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Tim Kennedy.
The oddsmakers haven't forgotten how good Rockhold is, however, which is why he's instilled as a 4 to 1 favorite in this fight. Rockhold has a perfect blend of wrestling and kickboxing - not great at either but really good at both. He landed the second most knockdowns in Strikeforce history while also pulling off the fastest submission to ever take place in the promotion.
Costas Philippou will present an interesting challenge to Rockhold because of his boxing acumen and takedown defense, which stands at 72.5 percent - a full 13-percent higher than the UFC average. The only problem is Philippou struggled with his wrestling in his last fight against Francis Carmont, where he was taken down five times on five attempts.
If Rockhold can get this fight to the ground early and get in Philippou's head that he will continue with an aggressive ground assault, it could give him the mental edge as the fight wears on. Rockhold didn't get to show that he's an elite middleweight in his last fight, but this will be his real coming out party. Given his ability to mix things up with a blitz of striking, wrestling and clinch control he could give Philippou fits by the time the third or fourth round begins. Rockhold is also no stranger to five round fights, so expect him to drag this one into deep waters before drowning Philippou with a unanimous decision victory.
LORENZ LARKIN (-210 FAVORITE) VS. BRAD TAVARES (+175 UNDERDOG)
The co-main event has real show stealer potential when strikers Lorenz Larkin and Brad Tavares meet up at UFC Fight Night. Larkin is a former title contender from Strikeforce who lost in his UFC debut by a very controversial decision before coming back in his return fight to batter Chris Camozzi on his way earning his first win. Meanwhile, Brad Tavares is on a four fight win streak, just begging for a shot at cracking the top ten.
The difference in this fight comes down to the elusive and explosive striking of Larkin, especially when matched up with a slugger like Tavares. Larkin loves to throw a multitude of strikes - he's got solid hands, kicks, knees and elbows - and will launch them from any angle with a few flashy moves under his belt as well. Tavares is more of a traditional puncher who loves a good brawl. Both fighters also have around 80 percent takedown defense, so it's not likely this one is going to hit the ground.
Larkin is favored here for good reason. He's a powerfully strong middleweight with serious power to put an opponent's lights out. Lately, Tavares has had his fair share of close fights so he may keep this one interesting, but look for Larkin to land more significant strikes throughout the course of the full 15 minutes. Larkin should come out on top by decision, but don't be shocked if he manages to pull off a highlight reel knockout if Tavares stands in front of him for too long.
TJ DILLASHAW (-300 FAVORITE) VS. MIKE EASTON (+220 UNDERDOG)
Another dynamite fight taking place on this card is a bantamweight matchup between TJ Dillashaw and Mike Easton. Dillashaw has looked like one of the best 135-pound fighters in the world over the last year, and despite his recent (and very close) decision loss to Raphael Assuncao, the future still looks very bright for this member of Team Alpha Male. On the other side of the Octagon is Mike Easton - a tough veteran who has gone toe to toe with some of the best in the division, but comes into this fight off of two straight losses, so will that affect his mental game?
It may not matter given Dillashaw's demeanor and aptitude to fighting lately. He's turned into a tornado capable of pulling off knockouts or submissions at any given time. Dillashaw is a former college wrestler who currently lands 50 percent of his takedowns, and while Easton's defense is really good (80 percent takedown defense), he's got the ability to drop this fight to the mat when he wants to get it there.
Easton is notorious for fighting close. He doesn't necessarily blow an opponent out of the water, but he's able to stick in a fight from bell to bell and never look truly overwhelmed. He'll have his hands full against a very motivated Dillashaw in this fight.
Dillashaw's striking lands at just under a 49 percent accuracy clip, with nearly four strikes landed per minute. When you mix in his wrestling with almost three and a half takedowns per fight, Dillashaw is as well-rounded as they come. With a bad taste from his last fight still lingering, Dillashaw will be gunning for Easton from the moment this fight starts. Now Easton may have a few losses on his record, but he's never - in his 16 fight career - been finished. It's a daunting task for Dillashaw to be the one to finally find a way to put Easton away, but with his opponent being out since April 2013, maybe he can take advantage of some ring rust and find an opening to grab a submission early. Otherwise, expect Dillashaw to win, but this one could end in another decision.
YOEL ROMERO (-290 FAVORITE) VS. DEREK BRUNSON (+210 UNDERDOG)
If you're looking for a fight with a finish, this is the one to bank on.
Two wrestlers will face off, with former Olympian Yoel Romero taking on Derek Brunson, but don't expect to see much grappling in this one. Certainly both possess that ability – Brunson, for instance, head kicked and knocked down his last opponent before choking him out on the ground. But with both competitors in this fight holding a wrestling pedigree, look for someone to land an exciting knockout that could earn a bonus when the night is over.
The odds are on Romero to be the one to land that knockout shot. The move to middleweight from light heavyweight has been a fantastic move for Romero, who is a perfect 2-0 with two finishes since changing divisions. Romero is a brick wall of power similar to welterweight slugger Hector Lombard, but he's also got the ability to mix in some surprising shots as well, like the flying knee he used to finish Clifford Starks two fights ago.
Brunson has shut down every takedown attempt that's been thrown at him, although he hasn't fought an Olympic silver medalist like Romero before either. Still, Brunson will probably be on the lookout for Romero's striking, given his tendencies in recent fights.
Romero generally wastes no time going after an opponent, but Brunson will be the quicker of the two, so he would be wise to employ a strategy that involves a lot of footwork in this fight. If Brunson stands in front of Romero or gets trapped against the cage, it could be lights out, game over. If there's a prediction for Knockout of the Night, it's safe money to put the pick on Yoel Romero, and the middleweight division should be on notice after he's done on Wednesday night.