Its been an exciting New Year so far for the UFC. Chris Weidman successfully defended his title against Anderson Silva, the UFC Fight Pass Digital Network was launched, and Dominic Cruz has been replaced by Urijah Faber in the Bantamweight Title fight against Renan Barao at UFC 169. Making 2014 even more exciting is the 35th installment of UFC Fight Night, to take place this Wednesday, January 15th, live from Diluth, Georgia. The landscape of the recently shaken Middleweight division will take center stage with three key fights to decide title rankings.
The ascension of Chris Weidman and the necessary time off for Anderson Silva to recover from injury has thrown the doors open for the remaining Middleweight contenders to stake a claim for a shot at the gold. The main event Fight Night 35 features a battle for redemption as former Strikeforce world beater Luke Rockhold goes to war with UFC mainstay Costas Philippou. With both fighters coming off of losses, an assertive victory for either man would do wonders for their respective rankings.
Rockhold came to the UFC as a result of the purchase and eventual closing of Strikeforce. The #6 ranked UFC Middleweight amassed an impressive 9-0 record, en route to a Strikeforce Middleweight Championship. His undefeated record included a victory over Ronaldo Souza for the title and was followed by successful defenses against Keith Jardine and Tim Kennedy. In January of 2013, Zuffa closed Strikeforce, with Rockhold being one of the fighters absorbed into the UFC.
UFC on Fox 8 marked the debut for Rockhold as he fought fellow contender Vitor Belfort in Brazil. Belfort would welcome the former Strikeforce Champion to the octagon by landing an impressive spinning heel kick to the head, handing Rockhold his first loss in six years. However, the KO loss for Rockhold was not without controversy. Belfort had been documented as using Testosterone Replacement Therapy, or TRT, to help him during training and recovery. There was much speculation that Belfort had only been taking fights in Brazil due to the fact that commission policies on TRT are not as stringent as they are in the States. The grey area of Belforts training tactics aside, Rockholds momentum in the division was immediately halted.
Rockholds opponent, Costas Philippou, is also seeking to right his ship as he is coming off a UFC 165 loss to Francis Carmont. Philippou, a perennial Middleweight contender, is currently the 10th ranked contender for Chris Weidmans belt. The Serra-Longo fighter already holds victories over Court McGee and Tim Boetsch and a win over Rockhold would most certainly produce a dramatic jump in the rankings. A Philippou win could propel him into the top five or a loss could launch Rockhold into an immediate title picture.