Who wins the Ben Rothwell vs. Junior dos Santos main event at UFC Fight Night 86, and how?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
In September of 2011 Ben Rothwell was a middling heavyweight who was in a pattern of alternating wins and losses against middling competition. He suffered a loss to Mark Hunt (himself at the time a 7-7 fighter) before knocking out the immortal Brendan Schaub. He subsequently was submitted by Gabriel Gonzaga, a fighter no one is ever going to confuse for a championship contender.
Junior dos Santos was one of the consensus best heavyweights in the world at that time, and two months later he would capture the UFC Heavyweight Title with a knockout of Cain Velasquez in the UFC’s first ever show on Fox. There was no conceivable universe one could imagine at that time where Big Ben needed to fight JDS. Fast forward almost five years, and the two square off with a betting line that is pretty close to even. No, this is not some crazy bizzaro universe we’ve suddenly been thrust into, although Rothwell’s strange antics probably fit right in if we were. Between the decline of dos Santos and the unexpected rise of Rothwell in a shallow division, we’ve arrived at this main event fight which is a virtual pick ’em.
Dos Santos had been pegged early on as a contender and likely future champion. He was athletic, mobile, and had exceptional boxing skills. His first foray into the UFC saw him knock out a man who is quickly becoming one of the all time greats in Fabricio Werdum inside of a round. The sky was the limit, and dos Santos was capitalizing on his unique talents. That all changed when Velasquez dished out an ungodly amount of punishment in their 2012 rematch to retake the belt. Between that, a third Velasquez fight, and a five round war against Stipe Miocic, the man known as Cigano has taken about five careers worth of punishment and shots to the head. Somewhere along the way he stopped being the joyful, athletic, agile fighter we were used to seeing. His skills have stagnated, his mobility has been forgotten, and his chin may not be holding up so well anymore.
Rothwell on the other hand, has an argument for a title shot at this very moment. His return from a PED related suspension has shown him rattle off three straight victories with three straight finishes. Alistair Overeem and Josh Barnett are two of the bigger names Rothwell has added to his list of defeated opponents, knocking out the guy known for his knockouts and submitting the guy known for his submissions. You can make an argument there isn’t a hotter heavyweight contender in the world right now.
Dos Santos still utilizes his boxing, but it’s more to engage in stand up slug fests than the evasive and precision style he used to employ. This will suit Rothwell, a largely immobile monster of a man, just fine. Rothwell is just a huge, tough, mountain of a man. He employed the underutilized straight-up-with-no-foot-forward stance (which no one should use by the way) in the Barnett fight and is more than willing to eat some shots in order to connect with a fist or get his hands into his opponent. Dos Santos will likely try to work the in and out game some, but unless he puts Rothwell on the canvas, it’s just going to feel like we’re all biding our time until JDS gets rocked with one of Rothwell’s heavy hands. Dos Santos has often spoken about a highly evolved grappling and submission game we haven’t seen, but it is highly advisable not to break that out against a man of Rothwell’s exceptional girth and strength. Rothwell is a very slight underdog, but that will be money well wagered when he finishes the former champion in under two rounds. Set your DVRs for “weird” and expect an odd and eccentric title shot demand from your new number one contender.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
I think Rothwell wins. I don’t think dos Santos is what he used to be. He’s taken a lot of abuse and just doesn’t seem the same, while Rothwell is rolling towards a title shot. He’s said that he plans on taking out everyone in the division. He’s already got some big wins under his belt, and this will only add to it. Pretty soon it’s going to be impossible to deny him a title shot. JDS isn’t who he was, but he’s still a name and a win here would give Rothwell another boost.
BRAD WALKER, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Rothwell is on his way up, Dos Santos is on his way down. Seems like it’s simple as that, right? Wrong. JDS is a killer, his stand up is absolutely incredible and his BJJ isn’t too shabby either. Rothwell is on a rocket ride of momentum, his chin is incredible and his odd fighting style throws off many opponents. There’s going to be hands flying around and someone’s going to get hurt. I’m voting for Rothwell to win this and find himself in the title picture.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Who would have ever predicted this as a main event on a cable event three and a half years ago when JDS was still reigning as champion while Rothwell didn’t seem to have much more life left in his UFC run? Even crazier is the fact that Rothwell appears to be the favorite.
I’m picking Rothwell for a number of reasons with durability being the most obvious factor. Rothwell has been one of the most durable fighters in the sport for years without signs of his toughness fading. Dos Santos on the other hand looks as though he is just about finished after one of the more brutal five fight runs seen in the history of the sport highlighted by the two beatdowns by Cain Velasquez. He took a lot of unnecessary punishment in the second fight and has been a shell of himself ever since.
What really is convincing me that Rothwell will emerge victorious is his confidence. Confidence will do miracles for a fighter as Conor McGregor’s rise showed before he bit off more than he could chew while JDS doesn’t show seem to have the same confidence that once upon a time permeated from him. JDS could still score the flash KO (this is heavyweight MMA after all), but I’m gonna say Rothwell finishes the job in the second round by KO.
[Junior dos Santos art by Grant Gould (c) MMATorch.com]
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