Junior dos Santos has been where Ben Rothwell wants to go.
The former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight titleholder will meet Rothwell in the UFC Fight Night 86 main event on Sunday at Zagreb Arena in Zagreb, Croatia. The two men appear headed in opposite directions, with dos Santos on the rebound following a knockout loss to Alistair Overeem and Rothwell on an improbable four-fight winning streak that included a stunning submission of Josh Barnett at UFC on Fox 18 in January.
The heavyweight theme will also spill over into the co-headliner, where Gabriel Gonzaga takes on former Legacy Fighting Championship titleholder Derrick Lewis.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC Fight Night “Rothwell vs. Dos Santos” matchup, with analysis and picks:
HeavyweightsBen Rothwell (36-9) vs. Junior dos Santos (17-4)
THE MATCHUP: Rothwell has begun developing a style that makes the most of his power and size. Shuffling forward with his head pulled back, Rothwell hand fights his way into the pocket, where, rather than loading up on unnecessary haymakers, he sneaks in short shots around his opponent’s defenses. He is not the most defensively sound fighter on the planet, but this savvy style, combined with his superb chin and deceptive power, makes him a serious threat on the feet.
Rothwell’s grappling has come along by leaps and bounds, as well. His patented “gogo choke” has received much praise -- as any technique that forces a tapout from Josh Barnett should -- but Rothwell’s wrestling is also potent. His size and strength help him here, too. Rothwell easily shucked off the clinch of Alistair Overeem, and despite the advice of Barnett’s corner, seemed to have no fear clinching with “The Warmaster.” Those are two of the division’s best clinch fighters.
Despite tearing his way through the heavyweight division from 2008 to 2012, dos Santos has had an extremely difficult time of late. At 32, age may be a factor, but no doubt the two brutal beatings dos Santos endured at the hands of former heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and the five-round war with Stipe Miocic have taken their toll. A knockout loss to Overeem only adds weight to this theory. Dos Santos has been knocked down and/or out in four of his last five fights.
Dos Santos has always been a potent offensive boxer, and his offensive technique has only improved over time. His punch output is more varied than ever, and his always-dangerous body punching has been a saving grace in many of his recent fights. Defensively, however, dos Santos has always shown holes, and those have not closed the way fans might have hoped. Dos Santos is far too willing to be backed into the fence, and he has neither the head movement nor the angular movement to accommodate his low guard.
The X-factor in this fight may be the so-called “Fight IQ.” Whoever makes the better adjustments as the fight plays out will likely carry the day. Dos Santos is rugged and has an excellent eye for openings, but Rothwell may actually be the more adaptive fighter, as evidenced by the second round of his fight with Barnett. Rothwell was soundly outboxed in the first round of that bout but came out in the second round with more pressure and actually managed to out-jab Barnett before wrapping up the fight-ending choke.
THE ODDS: Dos Santos (-133), Rothwell (+113)
THE PICK: This matchup will almost certainly be decided by cage control. Rothwell’s cage-cutting footwork is merely serviceable, but dos Santos is notorious for backing himself into the fence, where his speed and precision are seriously mitigated. If Rothwell fights Dos Santos the way he did in the second round versus Barnett or the way he fought Overeem, then he will be able to accumulate damage and pin dos Santos to the fence. Doubtless he will absorb some considerable punishment in the process, however, and dos Santos’ speed and power are not to be taken lightly -- especially if he can slow down Rothwell with body shots. I expect a good first round for dos Santos followed by a difficult second and ultimately a TKO in round three for “Big Ben.”
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