April 7, 2016

UFC Zagreb: Rothwell Should Get Heavyweight Title Shot With Win Against JDS At UFC Fight Night 86

By Adam Martin

A heavyweight fight with heavy stakes goes down this weekend as the UFC marks its inaugural event in Croatia. Former UFC Heavyweight Champion Junior Dos Santos fights the surging Ben Rothwell in the five-round main event. The card overall is low on name value, but there's no doubt the main event between JDS and Rothwell is a big fight between two big boys with big fanbases.

This is an important fight in the 265-pound division, as the winner of this fight will really cement his status as a top contender for the heavyweight title -- especially if it's Rothwell, who is looking to pick up his fifth win in a row. Rothwell has won four straight fights by stoppage -- over Brandon Vera (TKO - UFC 164), Alistair Overeem (TKO - UFC Fight Night 50), Matt Mitrione (Gogo Choke - UFC Fight Night 68), and Josh Barnett (Gogo Choke - UFC on Fox 18) -- and a win over the former champ JDS, especially if it's another finish, would put Rothwell in prime position to fight the winner of UFC 198's Fabricio Werdum vs. Stipe Miocic.

A lot of people will say that Overeem, who takes on Andrei Arlovski at UFC Rotterdam in May, should get the next title shot with a win over "The Pitbull" because of his star power. And yes, Overeem is a big name, but Rothwell knocked him out, and Rothwell hasn't lost a fight since then. In fact, Rothwell has looked better in every fight since defeating Overeem, who also hasn't lost since the Rothwell fight.

Some may say that Cain Velasquez, who takes on Travis Browne at UFC 200, could get the next title shot. After all, Velasquez was supposed to fight Werdum at UFC 196 before pulling out with an injury. But while Velasquez is the former champ and deserving of respect, he really doesn't deserve a title shot over Rothwell, or even Overeem. Heck, if JDS beats Rothwell, you might even have to put him ahead of Velasquez at this point considering JDS has a KO win over Werdum from back in 2009. Yes, "deserving" doesn't mean much these days where a title shot is often given to the bigger name regardless of whether the fight "makes sense," but Rothwell at this point represents the biggest threat to the top heavyweights in the division.

There are still doubters of Rothwell, although it boggles the mind why there would be. This is an improved fighter who has gotten better and better with age. Yes, he has been fighting since the early 2000s and has 40+ fights, but he has never looked better. Knocking out Vera and Overeem were both great wins, but his last two victories over Mitrione and Barnett have really demonstrated Rothwell's evolution as a mixed martial artist, especially the submission win over Barnett, something most figured was unthinkable.

But for Rothwell to even be considered for the next title shot, he has to go out there this weekend and make another statement against JDS. It's not an easy fight, as JDS still possesses big-time KO power, but it's a winnable fight for Rothwell, and if he can win in impressive fashion, he can really put his stamp on getting the next crack at the belt. In a sport where anything can happen, Rothwell's surge from middling gatekeeper to bona fide title contender has been nothing short of astonishing, and it would truly be something to see him finally fight for the UFC heavyweight title after competing in this crazy sport since 2001.

UFC Fight Night 86
Junior Dos Santos vs. Ben Rothwell

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

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