UFC 135 fight card: Mark Hunt vs Ben Rothwell preview

Two incredibly different heavyweights will step into the cage this Saturday night (September 24, 2011) in the opening bout of the UFC 135 main card as former K-1 World Grand Prix champion Mark Hunt takes on talented IFL veteran Ben Rothwell.

Hunt finally ended a brutal six fight losing streak that spanned nearly five years with an early second round knockout of Chris Tuchscherer at UFC 127 earlier this year. It was a fantastic return to form for a fighter many had written off. Hunt is hoping to really make an impact this Saturday night with another upset.

Ben Rothwell has spent the last 15 months recuperating from a savage knee injury but he hasn't just been lying around. In fact, he's been rebuilding himself into an absolute beast while training at Duke Roufus' gym in Milwaukee with a focus on living healthy and become more well-rounded. 

Can Mark Hunt add another incredible knockout to his storied resume? Will all of Rothwell's hard work while sidelined pay off? Will the significantly shorter "Super Samoan" be able to reach the "North Star?"

Mark Hunt

Record: 6-7 overall, 1-1 in the UFC

Key Wins: Mirko Filipovic (Pride Shockwave 2005), Wanderlei Silva (Pride Shockwave 2004), Chris Tuchscherer (UFC 127)

Key Losses: Sean McCorkle (UFC 119), Gegard Mousasi (Dream 9), Melvin Manhoef (Dynamite!! 2008)

How he got here: Mark Hunt became involved with fighting after impressing some bouncers with his knockout power in a brawl outside a night club. 

"The Super Samoan" didn't get an easy start in kickboxing, forced to fight tough top opponents early in his career when promoters were trying to use him as a stepping stone for their other stars. Instead, Hunt gained valuable experience against top opposition and came through with a respectable 15-4 record.

Hunt got his big break in kickboxing in 2001. He had won the qualifier tournament in both 2000 and 2001 to advance to the K-1 World Grand Prix and he shocked the world by winning three fights in one night to win the K-1 World Grand Prix Championship.

After a few more kickboxing matches, Hunt would transition to mixed martial arts. He would lose his debut in Pride via armbar but would go on an impressive five fight win streak that included wins against Dan Bobish, Mirko "Cro Cop" and Wanderlei Silva which would earn him fights against some of the toughest heavyweights in the world.

He would lose every fight from 2006-2010, stepping into the squared circle against the likes of Josh Barnett, Fedor Emelianenko (for the Pride Heavyweight championship), Alistair Overeem and Gegard Mousasi, losing each fight via submission of the arm. 

Due to some leftover contract obligations from Pride after the buyout, Hunt was granted a pair of fights in the UFC. He would lose to Sean McCorkle via Kimura in barely a minute but would rebound against Chris Tuchscherer earlier this year with one of 2011's most memorable knockouts. His victory earned him another fight against a top heavyweight in Ben Rothwell this Saturday night.

How he gets it done: This one is pretty simple. Mark Hunt has a tremendous chin, the ability to check kicks and big time knockout power in his hands. What he doesn't have is just about any ground game.

There's a reason that six of his seven career losses have come by way of armbar, Kimura or keylock: Hunt has horrible wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. If he winds up on his back against an opponent that knows what they're doing, he's going to be in serious trouble.

What he needs to do is whatever it takes to remain upright and try to land that knockout blow before he's put on his back. It worked against Tuchscherer and it can happen again. Hunt also has some pretty heavy kicks so if he can land some of those and take some zip out of Rothwell's takedowns and wrestling, that would be a big help as well.

Ben Rothwell

Record: 31-7 overall, 1-1 in the UFC

Key Wins: Roy Nelson (IFL: Moline), Gilbert Yvel (UFC 115), Ricco Rodriguez (IFL Finals 2007)

Key Losses: Cain Velasquez (UFC 104), Andrei Arlovski (Affliction: Banned)

How he got here: Ben Rothwell got a very early start in professional fighting, making his debut at just 17 years old. He didn't waste any time either, fighting a ridiculous 11 times in a one year stretch from November 2001 until November 2002.

Rothwell made a tremendous impact in the IFL, going on an impressive nine fight winning streak in the fledgling promotion and defeating the likes of Roy Nelson, Travis Fulton, Ricco Rodriguez and Krzysztof Soszynski (twice) in the process.

His run earned him a fight against former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski at Affliction:Banned in 2008, but after going two strong rounds, he would fade in the third and be knocked out. "Big Ben" would make his UFC debut against Cain Velasquez in 2009, getting physically dominated with wrestling and would have the fight stopped after eating multiple blows to the face while rising to his feet in a bit of mild controversy.

The Midwestern fighter got back on track at UFC 115, outgrappling Gilbert Yvel in a competitive back and forth affair in which Rothwell blew out his knee early in the first round. After 15 months away from the Octagon, he's back and ready for Mark Hunt.

How he gets it done: Rothwell has a strong kickboxing background and holds 18 career victories via knockout as well as four submissions via strikes or injury. He'll be seven inches taller than Mark Hunt with a six inch reach advantage but it would probably not be the smartest thing to stand and trade with the former K-1 World Grand Prix champion.

What "North Star" needs to do is get inside and take Hunt down. Any method would be fine whether it's a clinch trip, a single or double leg, even a big slam if he can actually get in deep and find the leverage. The primary goal of this fight will be to put Hunt on his back and work for a submission.

Once on the ground, Rothwell needs to pass Hunt's guard at least to side control and attack those exposed arms. Hunt has proven in the past that they are a big weakness of his on the ground and I doubt that the training he's been putting in has been enough to defend himself against an experienced MMA veteran like Rothwell. 

It's time to showcase all that hard work he's been putting in at Roufusport Gym with guys like Ben Askren.

Fight "X-Factor:" The X-Factor for this fight is 100 percent Mark Hunt's ability to keep this bout standing. He's a lethal striker, capable of knocking just about any man out when he's in good shape but time and time again he's been proven that he's very exposed once put on the ground. 

Hunt has been working out at a ton of gyms including American Top Team so perhaps they've instilled some decent takedown defense but even then that may not be enough against Rothwell, one of the biggest heavyweights on the UFC roster at 6'5" and 265.

Bottom Line: What makes this fight interesting is the finishing ability of both men. Ben Rothwell is a proven finisher with only three of his 31 career victories having been awarded via the judges while Hunt is a knockout machine with massive power and one of the best chins in the history of the sport. Whether this fight is a quick blowout by Rothwell or a surprise knockout by Hunt, it should be exciting and it should be fast. 

Who will come out on top at UFC 135? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!

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