When Ben Rothwell steps into the Octagon this Sunday to face Junior dos Santos, he will do so with aim of firmly establishing himself as the number one contender for the UFC heavyweight title. Should he leave Zagreb with a fifth straight UFC victory under his belt, can he really be passed over for a title shot?
The Kenosha, Wisconsin native is, as alluded to above, currently riding a 4-fight winning streak, having finished each of those fights – 2 by knockout, 2 by submission. The most impressive of these surely must be his most recent outing against MMA and grappling legend, Josh Barnett. In the second round of that match-up, Barnett looked to take the fight to the ground, only for Rothwell to grab hold of his neck, sinking in his favourite technique – the gogó choke. Barnett had no option but to tap, marking the first time in his MMA career that he had tapped out to a submission hold. It was the second consecutive win for Rothwell using that particular submission, the previous one coming against Matt Mitrione seven months earlier.
However, that victory over former TUF contender Mitrione was not the number one thing that made headlines for Rothwell that night – it was his post-fight speech that got the most attention. Aside from the ominous promise that “you have seen nothing yet” followed by that demonic laugh, there was a powerful statement of intent from Rothwell. He claimed that “the mixed martial artist you once knew, I am no more. I am something completely different………. I will have the UFC title. I know right now there is not a man on this planet that can stop me inside this octagon.” Combine that self-promotion with his crowd pleasing performance and his haunting entrance that night and the UFC had a fighter who just had a massive surge in popularity. Seemingly with each fight, each interview, “Big” Ben gains more and more fans.
An example of Rothwell’s growing popularity can be found by looking at his relationship with Irish MMA fans. Back in October of 2015, Rothwell was scheduled to meet Stipe Miocic in the co-main event of the UFC’s third event in Dublin. Unfortunately, Miocic suffered an injury and the bout was scrapped, with Rothwell removed from the card as a suitable replacement could not be found on short notice. Rothwell, however, still made the trip to the Emerald Isle and spent fight week attending various signing events, meet & greets, Q&A sessions and generally spending time with the fans of Ireland. By the end of that week, the Irish had virtually adopted Rothwell as one of their own and continue to support him to this day. In fact, Rothwell told MMA Latest at the UFC Zagreb media day that he hopes to win the heavyweight title and defend it in Dublin at some point. As we know from recent MMA history, popularity is one of the keys to getting a title shot and Rothwell has rapidly become one of, if not the most popular heavyweight in the world.
As far as other potential contenders in the division go, only two other realistic options come to mind – Alistair Overeem and Cain Velasquez. This is, of course, provided they both win their upcoming fights. In the case of Overeem, Rothwell knocked him out in the first round during his current win streak, so that should have him firmly ahead of the Dutchman in the pecking order. Velasquez, however, may be a more likely candidate, for the sole reason that he was scheduled to rematch current UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum in February before an injury derailed those plans. This is one of those situations where Rothwell could become a beneficiary of circumstance, however, for one reason – Werdum has a title defence coming up against the man Rothwell was supposed to fight in Dublin, Stipe Miocic. Depending on who comes out on top in that match-up, that could determine the next title challenger in the UFC’s eyes. To matchmakers, a Werdum win might mean a rematch with Velasquez is more attractive, but, if Miocic becomes the new champion, making the match that never happened with him against Rothwell may seem like the better idea. If Rothwell wins impressively on Sunday, I would personally give him the title shot regardless of the outcome of the upcoming title fight, but whether the UFC feels the same remains to be seen.
Rothwell currently holds the second longest winning run in the heavyweight division, behind only the current champion, Werdum who has won his past 6. Should Rothwell extend his own winning streak to 5 in Zagreb, he will have knocked off 4 straight opponents ranked in the UFC’s top 15, with 3 of those in the top 10. It is close to impossible to argue that those statistics are highly impressive and surely worthy of a shot at UFC gold in anyone’s language. Of course, that is not taking Sunday for granted, because Rothwell faces stiff opposition in former UFC heavyweight champion, Junior dos Santos. However, Rothwell has all of the momentum heading into their main event clash and everything seems to have clicked into place for him to earn his title shot.
Get in touch and let us know what you think on Twitter @MMALatestNws or contact me directly @KeefeMcKenna if you prefer. Whatever your opinion, make sure to tune into UFC Zagreb on Sunday to see who prevails in this gargantuan heavyweight bout between “Big” Ben Rothwell and Junior “Cigano” dos Santos.
Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz in the works for UFC 223
UFC 223 looks to add a variety of intriguing bouts. With Paul Felder vs. Al Iaquinta reportedly set for the unannounced UFC 223 card, the promotion looks to add a high stakes female flyweight match-up. According to MMANYTT.com, sources confirmed a bout between Felice Herrig and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, is in the works for the pay-per-view card.
Assuming the match-up does come to be, both women have much to gain from a victory. For Herrig, she currently sits on a four-fight win streak. A streak in which the strawweight contender defeated Kailin Curran, Alexa Grasso, Justine Kish, and Cortney Casey. The MMA veteran, Herrig, began fighting professionally in 2009. As of late, her issues with the marketing machine that is the UFC have intensified.
After demonstrating her technical prowess over Justine Kish at UFC Fight Night 122: Chiesa vs. Lee, Herrig put her emotions on display. She stated at the post-fight media scrum, “Sometimes, I feel like, I’m not young and beautiful enough for the UFC to want to promote me. And it’s sad because I’ve really worked so hard to be here and it’s hard to see these people who’ve not been through what I’ve been through. Who just got into the UFC at the right time. They’re getting all these opportunities and I see how hard I work to get here and it’s just like, it doesn’t matter. I just feel like, ‘I’m not pretty enough and I’m not getting any younger'”.
A frustrated Felice Herrig then spoke to MMAJunkie.com in December. She claimed, “Aside from (former UFC women’s strawweight champ) Joanna (Jedrzejczyk), I’m the only strawweight who’s gone on a four-fight winning streak. That’s a fact. At this point, I want to fight someone in the top 10. It doesn’t really make sense for me to keep fighting girls that are ranked below me. That’s the whole point. If I want to keep working my way up. I fight the most dangerous girls outside the top 10”. The #9 ranked women’s flyweight has a point. In her UFC career, she recorded one loss in six appearances. Yet, she has one co-main event booking, while fighters like Michelle Waterson, booked the main event in her second UFC bout. In Waterson’s third bout, she received a co-main event scheduling. Understandably, Felice Herrig is upset with her situation.
Later in her interview, Herrig brought up Kowalkiewicz as a potential next opponent. “For whatever reason, I really want to fight Karolina. I just think that would be an exciting fight… Stylistically, I really like that fight. She’s ranked above (me), and it may be a good gauge for me,” she stated. Right now, it looks like Herrig is close to getting what she wants.
Kowalkiewicz last fought in her native country of Poland on the UFC Fight Pass card, UFC Fight Night 118: Cowboy vs. Till, in October. The Polish star defeated Jody Esquibel, after losing consecutive contests to former UFC female strawweight champion, Joanna Jedrzejcyk and Claudia Gadelha, respectively.
A win for either makes a good case for the next or an eventual title challenger. Kowalkiewicz holds a victory over current division champion, Rose Namajunas. While a win for Herrig would further establish her impressive win streak and undoubtedly give her the boost in the rankings she deserves.
Douglas Lima found out about change to co-main event at Bellator 192 from the internet
Bellator 192 fight card has gone through a shake-up over the past week. Bellator president Scott Coker revealed last week that the scheduled welterweight title fight between Rory MacDonald and champion Douglas Lima will now be serving as the co-main event and the heavyweight matchup between Chael Sonnen and Rampage Jackson would instead take top billing. At the time no explanation was made for the change. Monday Douglas Lima was a guest on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani to discuss this change.
“I was little bummed, but it is what it is, it’s business you know. I was pretty excited you know? Being the main event, having Rampage fight as the co-main event, I was happy there. Then I was bummed out that they changed it back to the co-main event. It’s not going to change a thing for me, I’m just focusing on the fight.”
Lima has been notoriously looked over in the eyes of fight fans. A longtime member of Bellator and a two-time champion has not gotten the notice he deserves and hopes to get.
“I found out through the internet, nobody tells me anything, I didn’t know. the same thing happened in New York, I thought my fight would be before the two main events there, but it ended up being the first fight of the night on Pay-Per-View. Hopefully, it doesn’t take anything away from the fight, you know spotlight and stuff.”
Lima is looking to make all the naysayers take notice at Bellator 192 that takes place at The Forum in Inglewood, Califonia on January 20th.
“This is the fight I’ve been waiting for for a long time. To get my name out there, to get people to know who I am. I’ve been delivering a lot of good fights, fights fans like to watch but no attention yet. I’m hoping though that after a win over Rory this week it will really put my name out there and show all these welterweights out there that I am for real.”
Al Iaquinta vs. Paul Felder rescheduled for UFC 223 in April
MMA fans around the world wept in deep sorrow when Al Iaquinta withdrew from a bout scheduled for UFC 218 against Paul Felder. Weep no more, for Paul Felder faces Al Iaquinta at UFC 223. Rumblings behind the match-up, first reported by FloCombat.com, came Sunday night before MMAFighting.com confirmed the bout scheduled for unannounced pay-per-view card, later in the evening.
The original bout fell through due to a severe knee injury to Iaquinta. He spoke to BJ Penn Radio about the injury nearly a week before the December 2nd, PPV event in Detriot. The Long Island real estate agent claimed, “I tore my PCL and my MCL maybe three or four months ago… for me to really put in a full training camp and do what I need to do, I would’ve had to just focus on fighting and physical therapy… it was the kind of thing where all roads led to me not kind of taking a risk and fighting on December 2nd”.
Iaquinta went on to say, “I kind of accepted the fight, but I never signed a bout agreement… I was kind of told I had to give them an answer pretty quick. It was a fight I thought I really wanted. I thought it was a good stylistic match-up for me, so I accepted the fight, and then thinking about it over the course of a day, we realized it probably wasn’t a smart decision for my health, for everything”.
An outspoken lightweight, he is not the first of his kind. Al Iaquinta is no stranger to idly waiting on the sideline for the UFC to make a move. Contract disputes and other bad strokes of luck left the Serra-Longo with three octagon appearances since 2015. The feud between Iaquinta and the promotion comes as a surprise when looking at the credentials of the aforementioned fighter. With an octagon record of 8-2, he earned notoriety as one of the best lightweights in the world. During his time in the UFC, he defeated Kevin Lee, Ross Pearson, Joe Lauzon, Jorge Masvidal, and most recently Diego Sanchez.
His opponent, “The Irish Dragon”, Paul Felder, holds an impressive UFC record of his own. At 7-3, Felder defeated tough competition as well. His record notes wins over Daron Cruickshank, Jason Saggo, Stevie Ray, and Charles Oliveira. Even more impressive than his record, his knockout ratio. At this stage of his career, Felder knockouts 55% of his opponents (10 knockouts in 18 career pro bouts).
Like his opponent Iaquinta, Paul Felder has a separate career outside of fighting. As many should notice, Felder found a role as a color commentator with the promotion he fights for. Following the footsteps in a long line of fighters before him, Felder announced multiple events alongside another new addition to the UFC broadcast team, Brendan Fitzgerald.
PPV card, UFC 223 and its location are not official yet. Despite a lack of an announcement, the event takes place in Brooklyn, New York at the Barclays Centre, according to multiple reports. Currently, the card features no official bouts. Reports state Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (per Jim Edwards), and Evan Dunham vs. Mairbek Taisumov (per Farah Hannoun) are both in the works for UFC 223.
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