UFC Fight Night 86 Breakdown: Junior dos Santos vs Ben Rothwell

103_Ben_RothwellPrior to each UFC fight card, Jay Primetown takes a look at some of the key contests at each event. In the latest installment, we look at Sunday’s main event as a pivotal heavyweight bout takes place between former champion Junior dos Santos and surging American Ben Rothwell. This is a key clash in the division as both fighters are ranked as top five contenders for the championship. A victory could put either fighter in the next heavyweight championship fight.   Junior dos Santos (Record: 17-4, -130 Favorite, Fighter Grade: B+) The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt started competing in MMA professionally at the age of 21. After seven fights he signed a UFC contract. In his first fight in the promotion, he knocked out current champion Fabricio Werdum in just 80 seconds. He went on to win nine straight fights, the heavyweight championship, and become one of the top heavyweight fighters this decade. Just a couple years ago, the American Top Team-trained heavyweight was widely considered a top two heavyweight in the world along with rival Cain Velasquez. It was the second fight with Velasquez that was the beginning of a new career path. Dos Santos was dominated by the Mexican-American wrestler and took significant damage over the course of the 25 minute fight. The two fighters rematched 10 months later and it was more of the same with Velasquez brutalizing the Brazilian with constant pressure and damage. It was clear from that point on that damage had accumulated and dos Santos wasn’t the same fire. In his last two bouts, he fought another five round war with Stipe Miocic (winning a close decision) and most recently was knocked out for the second time in his career; this time by Alistair Overeem. When dos Santos is at his best, he’s got perhaps the best hands at heavyweight. His overhand is as brutal a strike as there is in MMA. It was the strike that won him UFC gold. His movement is pretty good and he holds some of the best takedown defense in the division. The question with dos Santos is that his past few fights have shown a different side of him. The cumulative damage has made him more tentative on the feet. His athleticism is not the same as it was just a couple of years ago. In short, dos Santos is still a dangerous opponent, but he’s not the terrifying opposition he once was.   Ben Rothwell (Record: 36-9, +110 Underdog, Fighter Grade: B+) The born and raised Kenosha, Wisconsin native had a troubled upbringing. A bout with spinal meningitis plus a horrific car accident during his upbringing gave Rothwell that extra edge needed to pursue MMA and to succeed. The number four ranked heavyweight formerly trained at Milletich Fighting Systems but has since opened his own gym in Kenosha named Rothwell MMA which he both owns and trains at. The 6’4” heavyweight is on the best run of his career. In his last three outings, he’s knocked out Alistair Overeem, submitted Matt Mitrione, and gave Josh Barnett the first submission loss of his MMA career. At 34 years of age, Rothwell is hitting his professional peak finding himself a win away from a chance at the heavyweight title. Despite holding just a purple belt in BJJ, Rothwell has amassed 13 submissions in his career. His self-patented gogo choke is one of the best submissions in the division and has really made him a threat in this division. He combines his dangerous submissions with improving movement on the feet and heavy hands. Rothwell has 20 knockouts in his career; once of the highest totals in the UFC. Rothwell has proven to be a durable fighter having only been finished once in the last six years. High on confidence, this is the biggest fight of the American’s career.   Match-up An important and competitive fight headlines the UFC’s first ever visit to Zagreb. In this match-up we see two fighters heading in different directions. Junior dos Santos is no longer the fighter he once was, yet he’s still one of the better fighters in the division. Ben Rothwell appears to be at the pinnacle of his career finishing ranked opposition looking for his biggest scalp yet. Rothwell may have more career fights, but he appears to have much less wear and tear. On the feet, the technical advantage is for the former champion. He’s a more skilled striker with more variety, but Rothwell has a solid chin and enters the fight with a confidence which makes him even more dangerous. Look for Rothwell to work this fight towards the cage where he does his best work on the feet. Keeping this at range would be a big advantage for dos Santos. I don’t see grappling having a big part in this fight. Neither fighter really looks much for takedowns and feels most comfortable in a standing exchange. If the dos Santos of 2013 fights on Sunday, he should have a real edge in this bout. However, I think it’s more likely that we again see a tentative dos Santos. A fighter that has passed his peak. If that’s the case, I think Rothwell has a small edge in this fight and is the more likely winner.

Written by Jay Primetown

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