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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 86's Ben Rothwell resident fighter analyst -- and aspiring professional fighter -- Andrew Richardson breaks down the mixed martial arts (MMA) game of UFC Fight Night 86 headliner Ben Rothwell, who looks to potentially earn a title shot this Sunday (April 10, 2016) inside Arena Zagreb in Zagreb, Croatia.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Long-time Heavyweight veteran and opportunistic finisher, Ben Rothwell, is set to do battle with former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight roost-ruler, Junior dos Santos, this Sunday (April 10, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 86 inside Arena Zagreb in Zagreb, Croatia.

Rothwell is on the best win streak of his career. In his last three fights, he's scored three straight finishes over some of the division's top contenders, and each victory was dramatic and impressive.

Despite this, Rothwell seems to remain in the backgrounds in the talks of title contention. The 15-year professional hopes to change that with a victory here, as defeating "Cigano" is still a pretty big deal that very few men have accomplished.

Let's take a closer look at the dark horse's skill set:


Across his career, Rothwell has scored 20 total knockout wins, which certainly says something about the power in his hands. Early on, Rothwell was finishing these foes thanks to both his wrestling/ground striking skill and his surprising athleticism, as many early opponents were surprised when the 260-pound athlete could spring toward them and cover distance quickly or flick out a sudden high kick.

More recently, Rothwell has adapted a more methodical approach, and it's working out for him. Instead of trying to bounce around and switch stances often -- which is a difficult style for fighters above Welterweight to maintain -- he now attacks with his own style and stance.

Now, Rothwell mostly sticks to his Orthodox stance, and he tends to lean backward a bit and keep his hands out. In this stance, Rothwell moves towards his opponent, hoping to both draw his opponent into exchanges and interrupt their strikes with his handsy style of defense.

Fighting with arms outstretched is not new or unique to Rothwell -- a great example would be both battles between Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler, two men who were constantly reaching out and touching each other -- but he's made it work very well for him.

If there's one word to describe Rothwell's overall game, it would be opportunistic, and that holds true for his striking in particular. "Big Ben" will jump on any chance to exchange punches that he can, which has caused him to find success with longer, flurrying combinations as well as counter punches.

For example, Rothwell attacked with his flurries well against both Brandon Vera and Matt Mitrione. Against both men, Rothwell found success by charging in with hard combinations of varied punches (GIF). This was a viable strategy for Rothwell in part because neither man was looking to take the larger wrestler down.

Or, at least in Mitrione's case, should not have been looking to take him down.

In addition, Rothwell does a better job of standing his ground and slipping when his opponent's come to him nowadays. This was most notable in his fight opposite Overeem, as the kickboxing specialist has adopted a very in-and-out style of striking in his recent MMA fights.

It didn't work very well against Rothwell, who controlled the center of the Octagon and waited for Overeem to come in. "Big Ben" landed a few hard counter strikes in the opening couple minutes, but an overhand that came over his opponent's cross sealed the deal (GIF).

Another wrinkle to Rothwell's game is his love of the dual threat of the overhand and uppercut. Rothwell fires his overhand pretty commonly, and it's a definite threat to his opponent's jawline. Since a common defense to this punch is to duck down, Rothwell can trick his opponent into moving into one of his best shots.

The opposite holds true as well.

In particular, Rothwell does a nice job of rushing his opponents with uppercuts. When a massive Heavyweight comes charging in, ducking down and covering up is certainly a reasonable response. Unfortunately for his opponents, that plays right into Rothwell's right uppercut (GIF).


Though Rothwell has wrestling experience, it really hasn't been a major part of his game lately. He hasn't scored a takedown since his 2011 battle with Mark Hunt, so there isn't much recent footage to examine.

That said, Rothwell's pursuit of the takedown if fairly simple. "Big Ben" has some deceptive speed, and he uses it well to suddenly drive through a double takedown. Regardless of whether the shot occurs in the open or against the fence, Rothwell's speed and power give him a solid chance at finishing the shot.

Similarly, Rothwell does know how to use his size in the clinch. It's been a long time, but Rothwell has shown nice clinch trips in the past, as well as an ability to transition into the double from that position.

Defensively, Rothwell is a rather solid wrestler. He's not an easy man to takedown, and he generally has a pretty strong sprawl that shuts down most attempts.

That said, Rothwell does stand fairly tall, so a well-timed double leg can put him on his back. However, Rothwell excels at quickly scrambling to his feet. Excellent grapplers like Cain Velasquez and Gabriel Gonzaga have had trouble holding Rothwell down, as he uses the fence to stand well and is also capable of turning away and fighting hands to free himself from the bottom position.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Though about half of Rothwell's 13 submission victories actually came via strikes, Rothwell has always been a solid grappler. Earlier in his career, Rothwell commonly looked for arm locks like the kimura, but now Rothwell's primary weapon is his variation of the guillotine choke.

Rothwell has won his last two bouts via the "Go Go" choke, which by all appearances, is essentially a 10-finger guillotine. While choking out Matt Mitrione is a solid accomplishment, submitting Josh Barnett for the first time in his entire career is a massive one, proving the danger of Rothwell's guillotine.

There are several things that separate the "Go Go" (or 10-finger) guillotine from other chokes. For one, Rothwell's grip is important. With both hands straight and wrapped around each other, Rothwell jams either his wrist bone or the bone of his thumb into his opponent's windpipe. This is very painful, and it's the reason the tap comes so quickly (GIF).

Additionally, most guillotine chokes are finished with the victim's head trapped underneath the armpit. However, this version traps his opponent's head under Rothwell chest and leaves it no room to move. To finish, Rothwell drops his chest down while bringing the aforementioned grip up into the windpipe. As mentioned, Rothwell is near the top end of the Heavyweight limit, so that's a lot "Big Ben" being dropped down on his opponent's neck, which has nowhere to move except into the bony bits of Rothwell's hands.

Tap tap tap (GIF).


Rothwell has been overlooked for too long. In all honesty, he has a far better claim to a title shot than any of the other contenders, including Stipe Miocic (two fight win streak), Cain Velasquez (just lost), and Alistair Overeem (who Rothwell knocked out violently). This SHOULD be Rothwell's opportunity to solidify his place at the front of a line, as it would be hard to deny him if he can finish the former champion.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an undefeated amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.

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