April 14, 2016

UFC Fight Night 86: Why the Heavyweight Division Needed A Ben Rothwell Win

By Raphael Garcia

The heavyweight division is far from the deepest in the sport; while the other weight classes are largely being driven by the growing number of young talents, the same can’t be said for the big men. In fact, the bulk of the division’s top fighters are long-standing veterans of the sport. Ben Rothwell certainly falls into that category, but his recent Octagon run put some hope into the UFC fan base for a new contender to reach the top of the division. Junior dos Santos brought that to an end at UFC Fight Night 86.

The UFC rankings may not be the most “authentic” set of rankings within sports, but they are still a point of conversation when discussing contenders within the weight classes. Rothwell is sure to slip a few positions, but other than Stipe Miocic, who is due to challenge for the belt at UFC 198, the rest of the Top 10 includes a fighters who have had their time in the limelight. The 34-year-old Rothwell represented the one name that created an interesting story around a UFC title shot, simply because he hadn’t reached that point in the past.

Other than Rothwell, only Alistair Overeem – who Rothwell defeated at UFC Fight Night 50 – and Travis Browne have yet to challenge for the belt. What’s left in the Top 10 is a group of men who do not create interesting storylines for the current champion, Fabricio Werdum. Rothwell’s outspoken personality and willingness to say whatever he believes about potential opponents at least could have created the opportunity for a marketable buildup had he reached number-one contender status.

Mixed martial arts has moved beyond the point in which the fights sold themselves. Nowadays, these athletes are expected to bring something to their bouts that will keep mainstream fans interested and spending money. That is what makes the rematch between Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor at UFC 200 much more interesting than either of the two title fights on the card. Fighters are expected to promote themselves in a manner unlike that of other professional sports, which is why Rothwell created a compelling option for the heavyweight division.

So where does the Wisconsin native go from here? Perhaps he is matched against the loser of the UFC 198 main event, in an attempt to build up the winner of said battle as potentially the next man to challenge for the belt. Rothwell is probably behind Overeem in the title queue, even though he has that win over the former Strikeforce and DREAM champion. But a fight against anyone else in the division would not have value for Rothwell at this time. It may keep him active, but it would present the risk to Rothwell of losing the coveted position he is in at this time.

Last weekend’s battle between Ben Rothwell and Junior dos Santos showed that the heavyweight division is in need of some serious new blood. As more of these fighters age and move towards retirement, one wonders where the next generation of heavyweight talent will come from, and when they will step in. Rothwell isn’t a young man, but at least he’s a name that’s very different from all of the rest. It’s a shame that he couldn’t get the win.

UFC Fight Night 86
Junior Dos Santos vs. Ben Rothwell: Junior dos Santos def. Ben Rothwell via unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 50-45).

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UFC Fight Night 86: Rothwell vs. Dos Santos (formerly UFC Fight Night 85) took place on April 10, 2016 at Zagreb Arena in Zagreb, Croatia.

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