The UFC takes over Saturday night once again when Denver, Colorado hosts UFC 135: Jones vs. Rampage. Light Heavyweight Champion “Bones” Jon Jones (13-1) defends his title for the first time against former champion “Rampage” Quinton Jackson (31-8). “Kos” Josh Koscheck (15-5) steps in to save the co-main event against Matt Hughes (43-8) after “The Dream” Diego Sanchez had to pull out due to injury. Hawaiian bred “Hapa” Travis Browne (8-0-1) and England’s “The Bear” Rob Broughton (13-4-1) square off in a heavyweight contest. Knockout artist “The Fireball Kid” Takanori Gomi (29-8) and Jiu-Jitsu ace Nate Diaz (12-8) square off in the lightweight division. The main card gets another dose of heavyweight action when IFL veteran “Big” Ben Rothwell (27-7) returns from injury to face K-1 veteran “Super Samoan” Mark Hunt (6-7). Rothwell is a highly regarded heavyweight and would love to return to the cage with a victory to chain a two-fight win streak. Hunt though enjoys a nice stand-up war but loves a quick knockout victory even more.
At First Glance: Both Rothwell and Hunt have vast amounts of experience between them but how they were baptized leading to this fight largely says how the fight will turn out. Rothwell’s experience in MMA grants him a bigger advantage in general knowledge such as changing the dimensions of the fight on the feet or on the mat. Hunt’s negative record in MMA might downplay his skills as a fighter but his experience under the kickboxing organization K-1 immediately makes him the more dangerous man as long as the fight stays standing. When the spotlights turn front and center, the battle that is going to take place is not between two mixed martial artists, but rather a mixed martial artist and a kickboxer.
In Depth: Rothwell is looking to break the .500 mark under the UFC. After a ruined debut at the hands of current heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez (9-0), Rothwell used the experience to improve the quality of his training, notably his grappling, in his Unanimous Decision victory over “Hurricane” Gilbert Yvel (33-16-1) at UFC 115. Although he is the much larger man with powerful striking of his own, Rothwell might see it fit to take the fight down to the ground where he is just as capable of getting the job done. Mark Hunt might be shorter in stature but holds a concrete chin along with unforgiving knockout power. As a K-1 level striker, Hunt knows how to let his strikes go against taller opponents as his stoppage victories over K-1 veterans Stefan Leko (K-1, 66-26-1), Jerome Le Banner (K-1, 43-18-2) , and most recently “The Crowbar” Chris Tuchscherer (16-4) at UFC 127 to attest to. Hunt has had success in MMA with wins over “The Axe Murderer” Wanderlei Silva (34-11-1) and “Cro Cop” Mirko Filipovic (27-10-2) but his biggest weakness is when he is on the losing end of a ground war. Of his seven losses, six have come by way of submission. Hunt has some knowledge of the game as his attempt to submit “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko (31-4) in 2006 with an Americana would support, but against the experience of Rothwell, the ground game would be the “Super Samoan’s” Kryptonite.
Wild Card: When on the receiving end of strikes, it is crucial for the fighter to defend himself and remain composed. Rothwell is a tough man to break but in his last performances in the Octagon, he has displayed that he is out of his element and shuts down when overwhelmed. His TKO defeat at UFC 104 might have come prematurely to some, but not defending himself from Velasquez’s punches while standing up caused the referee to intervene. At UFC 115, during the few instances Gilbert Yvel was in the driver’s seat Rothwell appeared dazed and slowly tried to defend himself which could have also yielded another stoppage to be called for. Rothwell has to make sure his defense and safety is priority number one when he cannot mount an offense, but if he does not try to actively fix the situation, Hunt will not stop punishing “Big” Ben until he sees a knockout or the referee calls him off.
The Verdict: At the end of the day, Ben Rothwell has more tools to work with when he faces Mark Hunt. He has his own knockout power but with the threats of wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu paired, he can easily outwork Hunt should he choose to take him down. Hunt will have a chance of always landing that one shot to end the fight just as long as it stays standing but if Rothwell stays true to his fight IQ, his chance remains relatively slim. Rothwell via TKO (Strikes), Round 3