UFC Fight Night 35 - Wrestling Observer picks & preview, new panelists



UFC Fight Night 35

By Josh Nason

For the third straight year, we are back and once again looking to officially knock Dave Meltzer off the top rung of the ladder. Todd Martin tied Big D in 2013, so they are sharing the unofficial championship trophy throughout 2014.

So in addition to our core six members, I’ve recruited four new Hall and Nash-esque outsiders to round out our gang to an even 10. I think you may have heard of these guys somewhere...

- Lance Storm: A bi-weekly guest on Figure Four Daily with Bryan Alvarez, Lance is a former champion in WWE, WCW, and ECW, the founder of one of the best wrestling schools in the world, and truly the ideal Canadian.

- John Pollock: Also an ideal Canadian in my book, John is the face of The Fight Network and is the longtime co-host of Live Audio Wrestling. He also does multiple podcasts and is newly married, so we'll see if his marital bliss impedes his picks.

- "Front Row Brian" McMahon: The notorious Twitter breaker of both MMA news and rules joins our panel for 2014. A longtime Observer reader & Empire~! member, I'm excited to have him aboard.

- Steve JuonHe covers MMA for this very site, and does fighter rankings for the UFC on behalf of the site, as well as covering pro wrestling at his own site AngryMarks. He is also known to partake in the hip-hop music all of the kids are listening to.

They join the Sinister Six of...

- Dave Meltzer (0-0): Wrestling Observer founder & writer

- Josh Nason (0-0): Wrestling Observer web editor & social media guy

- Todd Martin (0-0): Weekly FFD guest | LA Times | Sherdog

- Mike Sawyer (0-0): ToughTalkMMA.com, co-host of Tough Talk

- Oliver Copp (0-0): of combat sports insider fame, co-host of Tough Talk

- Mike Sempervive (0-0): Wrestling Observer Live | Big Audio Nightmare

As a reminder, we are only doing UFC events that are on PPV, big Fox, Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 -- not any of the Fight Pass shows. Also, Bryan Alvarez has been retired from the picks panel as he seemingly last made picks when WEC was still in business.

Luke Rockhold (10-2) vs. Costa Philippou (12-3-0-1)
Middleweight

The 29-year-old Rockhold made his UFC memorable by getting KO’d by Vitor Belfort in less than three minute, snapping a nine-fight win streak for the final Strikeforce middleweight champion. A pro since 2007, Rockhold has had injury issues in the past and missed an October date with Tim Boetsch due to a knee injury. Philippou saw a five fight win streak snapped in September at the hands of Francis Carmont. Both guys have done well against the mid-to-low end of their divisions (other than Rockhold’s win over Jacare Souza), so this should be a competitive fight.

Rockhold: Nason, Copp, Meltzer, FRB, Juon, Sawyer, Pollock, Storm, Martin, Sempervive

Lorenz Larkin (14-1-0-1) vs. Brad Tavares (11-1)
Middleweight

Despite an up and down last two years, the 27-year-old Larkin can say he is the last person to beat Robbie Lawler, he of the impending middleweight title shot. Larkin is 1-1 in the UFC with a loss to Francis Carmont, and a November decision win over Chris Camozzi. Tavares has quietly put together a four-fight win streak, and is 6-1 in the UFC. One of the reason it’s so quiet is that he only has one finish in those six with no nightly bonuses, but wins are wins...kinda.

Larkin: Nason, Copp, Meltzer, FRB, Juon, Sawyer, Pollock, Storm, Martin, Sempervive

T.J. Dillashaw (8-2) vs. Mike Easton (13-3)
Bantamweight

The 27-year-old Dillashaw looked to be on a fast track to a title shot until an October split decision loss to the surging Rafael Assuncao derailed it. Before that, he had won four straight since his TUF 14 finale loss including three straight finishes over Vaughan Lee, Issei Tamura, and Hugo Viana. The 29-year-old Easton also looked to be headed toward a title shot with eight straight wins, but two straight decision losses to Assuncao and Brad Pickett put that on ice.

Easton has only been finished once (2007), while Dillashaw has finishes in six of his eight wins.

Dillashaw: Nason, Copp, Meltzer, FRB, Juon, Sawyer, Pollock, Storm, Martin
Easton: Sempervive

Yoel Romero (6-1) vs. Derek Brunson (11-2)

Middleweight

The 36-year-old Romero looks to continue his impressive run against Strikeforce/UFC veteran Brunson. Romero, a 2000 Olympic silver medalist in freestyle wrestling, started his career four years ago and all six of his wins have come via T/KO. He made his Octagon debut with a first round finish of Clifford Starks, following that up with a third round KO of Rony Markes.

The 30-year-old Brunson had lost his last two fights in Strikeforce before coming over in the Zuffa merger, but has a submission win over Chris Leben and a first round finish over Brian Houston to his UFC credit. The Greg Jackson protege is a three-time Division II All-American wrestler, but he’ll likely be outmatched if this fight hits the mat.

Romero: Nason, Copp, Meltzer, FRB, Sawyer, Pollock, Martin, Sempervive
Brunson: Juon, Storm

John Moraga (13-2) vs. Dustin Ortiz (12-2)
Flyweight

The 29-year-old Moraga returns to action for the first time since his title shot loss to 125-pound champ Demetrious Johnson last year. Before that, he had won seven in a row with finishes in his two UFC bouts. The 25-year-old Ortiz made his Octagon debut in November with a 3rd round TKO Jose Maria Tome. The Taachi Palace fights and Midwest scene vet has won his last four.

Moraga: Nason, Copp, Meltzer, FRB, Juon, Sawyer, Pollock, Martin, Sempervive
Ortiz: Storm

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