On Wednesday night, the UFC makes its fifth trip to the Peach State to host UFC Fight Night 35. Headlining the card are two Zuffa veterans, both of whom are looking to avenge losses from their most recent Octagon appearances.

Former Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold has gone 10-2 in his mixed martial arts career. The California native went 9-0 under the Strikeforce banner with notable wins over Tim Kennedy, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Jesse Taylor. He was then knocked out in the first round of his UFC debut by surging title contender and longtime veteran Vitor Belfort. For his second UFC battle, Rockhold will face expert striker Costas Philippou.

Philippou, a native of Cyprus, began boxing when he was 15 years old, continuing into a professional boxing career. Now a 34-year-old pro MMA fighter, he has gone 12-3 overall, with five wins inside the Octagon. He was on a five-fight winning streak before dropping a unanimous decision to Francis Carmont in September. Looking to get back to his winning ways, Philippou jumped at the chance to face the former Strikeforce champ to get back in the UFC title hunt.

Although on paper this match appears to be a classic striker versus grappler affair, it is anything but that. Philippou hold a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and trains out of Bellmore Kickboxing Academy in Long Island, N.Y., and Rockhold is a black belt in BJJ, but trains out of American Kickboxing Academy in California. If anything, one may be slightly better than the other in certain departments, but, all else aside, this is a classic East Coast versus West Coast match-up, and the winner will enjoy a certain level of bragging rights in that respect.

Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Rockhold – 9, Philippou – 10

The good folks at AKA would probably not agree with the scoring here, and for good reason. Rockhold trains with some of the best strikers in the world, including that always-destructive UFC heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez. In Rockhold’s fight against Kennedy, he dropped the contender on multiple occasions and exhibited a very aggressive, forward-pressing striking arsenal. Well, Kennedy is a grappler by trade, whereas that is not the case with Philippou.

Philippou has six knockouts under his belt to Rockhold’s two. The former pro boxer has some devastating hands, and his third-round knockout of Tim Boetsch at UFC 155 was one for the ages. Philippou is by far one of the best pure boxers in the UFC, and his training on the Serra-Longo fight team before moving to Bellmore only improved his all-around striking game.

The biggest problem on the feet for Philippou is his four-inch height disadvantage, but, as Kennedy discovered, Rockhold may have height, but seriously lacks knockout power. Philippou may sustain damage while striking with Rockhold, but Philippou is a much more dangerous striker.

Wrestling: Rockhold – 10, Philippou – 9

As with most of the top AKA fighters, what Rockhold lacks in stand-up skills, he more than makes up for with his wrestling. He began wrestling in seventh grade and continued through high school. While in high school, he also trained in BJJ, expanding his horizons beyond the Olympic style of wrestling. His opponent is not even close in the wrestling department.

Philippou has no formal background in wrestling, but he is still a very powerful middleweight. His takedown defense and takedown accuracy are actually statistically better than Rockhold’s, but he doesn’t try to get to the mat nearly as much. Philippou’s biggest problem will be in the clinch, where Rockhold’s size will make it very difficult to maintain control and land any significant strikes.

The wrestling department is probably the most closely matched of the three, but Rockhold gets the nod.

Submission Grappling: Rockhold – 10, Philippou – 9

Rockhold may barely get the nod in wrestling, but in submission grappling, this one is no contest. As was previously mentioned, this is a BJJ black belt versus a purple belt. The black belt has won gold medals at the IBJJF World Jiu-Jitsu Championships, and the purple has never competed at that level. Rockhold has six MMA submissions under his belt and Philippou has one.

Neither man has been able to submit an opponent in over four and a half years, which leads one to believe that this contest probably won’t go in that direction, but after eating a lot of surgically placed power strikes, Rockhold may actually see this as a big opportunity to earn his first submission win since tapping Taylor in November 2009.

Philippou’s takedown defense is so good because his coaches know that submission grappling is not his forte. He has obviously come a long way from pro boxing to a purple belt in BJJ, but Rockhold is the superior grappler in this affair.

X-factor

The x-factor in this fight is the pressure of the spotlight on Rockhold. The last thing the Strikeforce champ needed was a crazy knockout loss in his UFC debut, but that’s exactly what happened. Philippou, for all intents and purposes, is playing with house money. He has nothing to lose and really wants to get back in the win column after the loss to Carmont. For Rockhold, it’s not that simple.

Fans have already had a tough time accepting that other promotions are at the same level as the UFC, and the Rockhold loss was just evidence. In Rockhold’s eyes, he was the best middleweight in the world, but things didn’t exactly pan out that way. Rockhold still feels that way, but with all the talking he’s been doing lately, he needs to back up that claim more than ever. He better watch out, though, because Philippou is not the guy he wants to sleep on. Philippou is hungry and dangerous, and the Cypriot could easily throw a wrench into Rockhold’s hopes to enjoy a UFC title run in the next year.

Total: Rockhold – 29, Philippou – 28

Verdict: UFC Fight Night 35 will air mark the promotion’s first visit to The Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga. East meets West in a battle that could easily go either way.

In one respect, Rockhold has the size and grappling advantage in this fight. But against his last two opponents, he tried to keep it standing and couldn’t finish on his feet. Philippou’s best asset lies in his hands, and he always stays true to himself and his skill set. He won’t let Rockhold just take him down, and he certainly has no problems with the height advantage while standing, as he displayed in his fight against Jared Hamman.

If the fight stays standing, Philippou could easily win by stunning knockout. However, if the momentum switches from feet to mat to feet throughout the fight, Rockhold could win by either split decision or submission.

At the end of the day, Rockhold thinks he has something to prove and will come out swinging, trying to take this one by knockout. Instead, he will get caught and Philippou will win by TKO.