In just a few short days, on Sunday, April 10, 2016, the UFC will head to the beautiful Eastern European nation of Croatia for the first time in company history. Taking center stage in Zagreb’s marquee Arena Zagreb, UFC heavyweight contenders Ben Rothwell and Junior dos Santos will be looking to send a message to the rest of the division.

Coming off of a loss and with an ugly record of 2-3 in his last five bouts, dos Santos is looking to prove he is still a dangerous title threat. Rothwell on the other hand – currently riding an impressive four-fight winning streak – is looking emphatically stamp his ticket to title town.

Even though I firmly believe dos Santos is still one of the most dangerous heavyweights in the world, the two losses to former champion Cain Velasquez and his most recent loss to Alistair Overeem have severely affected his confidence and that aura he once had in the Octagon. Simply put, dos Santos has taken a beating over the last few years – even his two victories were brutal affairs – and he is running into a fighter whose skill level is peaking.

A rugged journeyman of the sport, Rothwell’s path to the UFC was long and arduous; he was 36 bouts into his pro career by the time he made his UFC debut. After five bouts and a 2-3 record Rothwell had the look of a fighter who was good enough to be competitive but one who would never be a true contender. Then something clicked and now four impressive finishes later Rothwell is knocking on the door of a potential title shot. A win over dos Santos would be more than enough to put him in the conversation.

Beating dos Santos is much easier said than done, but Rothwell has more than enough tools to get the job done at this point.

Toughness

First and foremost Rothwell’s gritty toughness gives him a chance in every fight. If a fighter beats Rothwell you can be sure it wasn’t an “easy” win. Against a fighter like dos Santos, Rothwell will need to rely on that toughness and determination to weather the storm and drag his opponent into the deeper waters.

Size and Pressure

It’s one thing to have a size advantage in a fight, but knowing how to properly utilize that size advantage is something completely different. While dos Santos and Rothwell are the same height, Rothwell will have a three-inch reach advantage and a weight advantage of anywhere between 20 and 40 pounds. With the way Rothwell likes to close the distance and make fights ugly in the clinch and against the fence, that weight advantage will play a key role in this fight.

The more Rothwell can pressure dos Santos and absorb his punishment the more he will sap his gas tank, effectively taking away dos Santos’ speed advantage. Without that speed, dos Santos will become very hittable and Rothwell has shown he has significant stopping power.

Improved Grappling

Dos Santos has nice grappling credentials and he holds a black belt in BJJ, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he is safe on the ground. Rothwell is an incredibly sound grappler who is coming off of an impressive gogo choke submission against legendary submission grappler Josh Barnett. Rothwell is not someone you want to have grabbing at your neck. . . or any limb, for that matter. If Rothwell was able to submit one of the most accomplished grapplers in the UFC there is no reason he couldn’t do the same to dos Santos.

This is a career defining opportunity for Rothwell and he is poised to take full advantage of it. Expect to see him with his hand raised when it is all said and done.

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About The Author

RJ Gardner
Content Coordinator

RJ Gardner is a rabid sports fan and a long time MMA enthusiast. After watching UFC 1 at ripe old age of 11 RJ was hooked and his passion for the sport has continued to blossom over the years. RJ has been covering MMA since 2007 and has had work featured on Bleacher Report, SI.com, CBSSports.com and UFC.com. RJ is also a Petroleum Transportation Operations Manager during the day.