Two extremely heavy hitters will collide this Saturday night (Jan. 19, 2013) as former IFL Champion Ben Rothwell takes on former UFC title challenger Gabriel Gonzaga on the UFC on FX 7 main card in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Rothwell enters the fight on the heels of a vicious first round knockout of Brendan Schaub, although he's been sidelined for several months after suffering a severe ankle injury. He's hoping to push his UFC record above .500 for the first time and score a significant victory in hostile territory.
Gabriel Gonzaga returned from retirement and earned an invite back into the UFC last year, defeating newcomer Ednaldo Oliveira via first round submission in his Octagon reappearance. After having his next fight delayed by opponent injuries as well as his own, he's finally ready for round two of his comeback tour.
Can Rothwell go on his first winning streak in years? Will Gonzaga score his most significant victory since Cro Cop? What's the key to victory for both men?
Record: 32-8 overall, 2-2 in the UFC
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 returned to face Mark Hunt and ran out of gas quickly, losing a decision in Denver.
He was fighting for his job last April against Brendan Schaub and delivered a spectacular first round knockout to remain employed. After an ankle injury set him back, he's hoping to take out his second straight opponent this weekend.
How he gets it done: Rothwell has some serious power, but the key will be actually being able to utilize it. He's not the fastest fighter out there, so he's going to have to create situations where Gonzaga will not be able to get out of the way of his fists.
Look for Rothwell to stalk Gonzaga down, moving forward constantly to try to corner him against the fence where he won't have escape routes. Gonzaga does not utilize very good head movement so if he can't escape a rough situation with his feet, he could be in trouble.
Rothwell has an incredible chin, so he shouldn't be afraid to eat a big strike in order to dish one out. He can definitely handle a good shot better than Gonzaga so if he finds himself in a situation where he can trade blows, he should jump at the opportunity.
He's going to have to pace himself, however, if he doesn't want to be plagued by the conditioning issues that seriously haunted him against Mark Hunt.
Record: 13-6 overall, 8-5 in the UFC
How he got here: Gabriel Gonzaga had a significant background in Brazilian jiu-jitsu before making the transition to mixed martial arts, winning several competitions and doing well at the prestigious ADCC tournament. He had a rock solid start to his professional MMA career, with his lone defeat coming at the hands of current top heavyweight Fabricio Werdum before he was invited to the UFC.
Once there, he began wrecking his opposition, knocking out or submitting everyone in his way before earning the opportunity of a lifetime against the legendary Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic. "Napao" shocked the world by knocking the Croatian superstar senseless with a right head kick, which earned him a UFC Heavyweight title shot against Randy Couture.
In his title opportunity, Gonzaga came up short against Couture, fading in the third round after breaking his nose. Since that defeat, he's never been able to be a consistent winner in MMA, losing to all the top rising heavyweights while winning just enough against the lower tiered heavyweights to remain employed.
That streak ended in late 2010 when Gonzaga lost to Brendan Schaub and was released from the UFC and the Brazilian announced his retirement. He returned to MMA a year later, winning via submission and earning another shot at the big leagues and he made the best of his opportunity by submitting Ednaldo Oliveira in his return to the promotion a year ago.
After a year off due to a mixture of injuries and bad luck, Gonzaga will fight in his home country against Ben Rothwell this Saturday night.
How he gets it done: Gonzaga has some good punching power and vicious kicks, but his striking has really only hurt him ever since the knockout of Filipovic. His recent success has come because he returned to his roots by taking fights to the ground and submitting opponents.
It's not like Ben Rothwell is the most fluid and lethal kickboxer, but he's got an incredible chin, better than Gonzaga's and it's not worth it to stand and bang with him.
They key for Gonzaga is to wear Rothwell down with takedown attempts and attacks on the canvas. Rothwell doesn't have a bad ground game when he's got a full gas tank, but when he's tired, even Mark Hunt attempts submissions against him. Look for Gonzaga to relentlessly pursue to takedown and try to take Rothwell's striking out of the equation.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight has to be injuries and the long layoffs for each individual. Both Gonzaga and Rothwell are coming off injuries and bad luck which have kept them sidelined for a combined 20 months as we enter this fight. Gonzaga had fights fall apart and pulled out of a fight last May due to injury while Rothwell had to back out of a fight against Travis Browne after suffering a pretty extensive ankle injury before the UFC on Fox 4 event.
Both men will be rusty, but whoever is able to make the proper adjustments and stay fresh in the Octagon the best will likely be able to come out on top. Also, a home field advantage could actually help Gonzaga significantly if he needs that extra boost to get him fired up and ready against Rothwell.
Bottom Line: Both Rothwell and Gozaga are capable of putting on very entertaining fights. Both men have knockout power while Gonzaga can also finish fights on the ground. This fight should be entertaining wherever it goes unless Rothwell tries to use his wrestling to stifle Gonzaga, although that doesn't seem very likely. Expect some intense stand-up altercations followed by either a knockout or some ground work. This fight will be very fun as long as it ends in the first two rounds. If we go to a third, it could get a bit ugly.
Who will come out on top at UFC on FX 7? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!