It feels like it’s been a while since the last UFC card, hasn’t it? I honestly can’t remember when the last one happened. Oh wait, that’s right. It was last month when Mark Hunt nearly took Frank Mir’s head off.
But I digress. The latest UFC Fight Night card comes from yet another new market for the UFC, Croatia. Our eastern European brethren will be treated to a heavyweight main event with major title implications to boot: former champion Junior Dos Santos facing Ben Rothwell.
Junior Dos Santos
Strengths: There are some rules of thumb in life. You don’t spit into the wind, you don’t order fish on Mondays and Junior Dos Santos is the best pure striker in mixed martial arts. He has 13 knockout finishes on his resume and won the UFC heavyweight title by cleaning Cain Velasquez’s clock at the very first UFC on Fox card in 2011.
Many fighters have made the mistake of trying to stand and trade with “Cigano,” and many have failed. Dos Santos also has good takedown defense, as he stuffed Frank Mir’s takedowns during their fight in 2012 before knocking him silly as well. On paper, Dos Santos is the perfect MMA fighter: Excellent striking and takedown defense, which allows him to display his excellent striking.
Weaknesses: While Dos Santos has excellent takedown defense, it remains to be seen just how good he really is on the ground. His second-ever MMA fight resulted in submission victory, but he also has a submission loss as well. No one in the UFC outside of Mir and Velasquez has really tested dos Santos on the ground, and while Mir was unsuccessful, Velasquez’s ground and pound was part of the reason why he was able to defeat Dos Santos twice during their epic trilogy.
It’s also fair to wonder if the Velasquez/Dos Santos trilogy took a substantial toll on Dos Santos. Since then, he’s alternated wins and losses and is coming off a second-round TKO loss to Alistair Overeem. There was a time when Dos Santos looked like one of the greatest heavyweight fighters of all time. But after his wars with Velasquez, it’s fair to wonder if that damage continues to sustain.
Strengths: Simply put, Rothwell comes to beat you up. He’s a big, strong, lumbering fighter who’s experienced a renaissance of sorts over the last couple years. He has a record of 6-2 in his last eight fights and is currently on a 4-fight winning streak. He seems to have a renewed commitment and passion for MMA, and it shows in his performances.
His last victory probably should have netted him a title shot, as he displayed his submission skills and became the first-ever fighter to submit Josh Barnett. Even if Barnett isn’t the fighter he once was, that’s no small feat. Rothwell just seems to be getting better with each fight and peaking at the right time, even after 45 career fights and being 34 years old.
Weaknesses: Despite Rothwell’s recent success, he was a middling fighter for much of his UFC career. Before his 4-fight win streak, he was a .500 fighter and showed no real signs of becoming a contender. Did he peak too little, too late? Will he come up short against a truly elite striker in Dos Santos, like he’s come up short before against other strikers like Velasquez and Mark Hunt?
It might also be fair to wonder if Rothwell becomes frustrated if he doesn’t enjoy immediate success like he has in his last few fights. Will old, bad habits reveal themselves again?
I feel this is a make-or-break fight for Dos Santos. He’s not the same fighter he was when he was champion. It could just be that he absorbed so much punishment from Velasquez during their trilogy. Or maybe he’s just hit a slump? It does happen, after all. But he’s in a dangerous spot against a motivated and renewed fighter in Rothwell, who seems to be locked in on getting a title shot, which he should get with a victory.
If dos Santos can triumph over Rothwell, he might re-insert himself into the title conversation. But Rothwell’s improvement over his last four fights has been remarkable, and I think Rothwell solidifies himself as the top contender here.
Winner: Rothwell by submission