Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweights knockout artists Ben Rothwell and Junior dos Santos will clash TODAY (Sun., April 10, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 86 inside Arena Zagreb in Zagreb, Croatia.
Rothwell is on the hottest win streak of his entire career. Should "Big Ben" continue his winning ways here, he undoubtedly deserves to challenge for the title in his next bout. On the other hand, dos Santos has fallen on hard times, but he's not a goner just yet. With a strong performance in Zagreb, "Cigano" can remind fans and his fellow Heavyweights of his past dominance.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for both men:
Key Wins: Alistair Overeem (UFC Fight Night 50), Josh Barnett (UFC on FOX 18), Matt Mitrione (UFC Fight Night 58)
Key Losses: Gabriel Gonzaga (UFC on FX 7), Mark Hunt (UFC 135), Cain Velasquez (UFC 104)
Keys to Victory: Rothwell is a well-rounded and massive Heavyweight. He's got some seriously heavy hands, tricky set ups, and a vicious guillotine, in addition to an ability to capitalize on small openings.
There's no getting around the face that dos Santos has lost a step. He seems slower and hesitant, as the abuse he's taken in the last couple years has undoubtedly taken its toll. On the other hand, Rothwell looks fresher than ever, even if he is well over a decade into his career.
To take advantage of dos Santos' decreased aptitude in a gun fight, Rothwell needs to force exchanges. Since Rothwell does great work against the fence and his opponent's defense collapses when pushed into the cage, his path to forcing exchanges seems pretty obvious.
While scoring a takedown on the Brazilian would be an immensely difficult task, Rothwell should still shoot. However, it should be with the intention of driving dos Santos into the fence. From there, his opponent is trapped and forced to trade, which is ideal for "Big Ben."
Junior dos Santos
Key Wins: Stipe Miocic (UFC on FOX 13), Cain Velasquez (UFC on FOX 1), Mark Hunt (UFC 160)
Key Losses: Cain Velasquez (UFC 155, UFC 166), Alistair Overeem (UFC on FOX 17)
Keys to Victory: One of the sharpest and most powerful boxers in the division, dos Santos has finished 12 of his opponents via knockout. He's also a tremendously difficult fighter to take down, leaving most opponents stranded on the feet with him.
First and foremost, it's important that dos Santos does not hesitate. In his last bout, "Cigano" really had a hard time pulling the trigger, which allowed his opponent to patiently find his opening and knock the Brazilian out.
He cannot give Rothwell a similar chance here.
Instead, dos Santos should look to rely on his speed and boxing. Rothwell is not a powerful enough wrestler to drag dos Santos down, so it will be a striking battle unless dos Santos chooses otherwise.
That's a duel dos Santos has the skill to win.
In particular, dos Santos should look to establish his jab. Rothwell has a difficult time when stuck on the outside of his opponent's range, and "JDS" has shown an ability to establish that distance in the past. If he makes Rothwell enter sloppily, he could definitely walk him into a hard counter punch.
Bottom Line: This bout has significant implications for both the individual fighters and the division.
Dos Santos needs this win if he's to stay relevant in the title picture. It's strange that in just a couple years dos Santos has dropped down so low, and that slide will continue if he cannot return to the win column here.
If dos Santos does successfully end his opponent's streak, he's right back in the swing of things. None of the other top contenders are on particularly long win streaks, so dos Santos would not be far from a title shot with whoever holds the belt in the next year or so.
Particularly in the case of Werdum, as there's some long unfinished business there.
Meanwhile, the stakes are similarly high for Rothwell. As mentioned, Rothwell already has a strong claim to a title shot but has been overlooked. It would be really difficult to ignore him following a win here, as that would make five straight.
Though nothing is impossible.
On the other hand, it's clear that UFC is in no hurry to promote Rothwell, so a loss would be devastating. Building win streaks at Heavyweight is difficult, so it may be difficult for Rothwell to ever get this close to a title shot again.
TONIGHT at UFC Fight Night 86, Junior dos Santos and Ben Rothwell will throw down in the main event. Which fighter will remain standing when the dust settles?