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Ben Rothwell (36-9)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’4″ Age: 34 Weight: 263 lbs Reach: 78″
  • Last Fight: Submission win / Josh Barnett (1-30-16)
  • Camp: Rothwell MMA (Kenosha, WI)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Switch-stance / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Undefeated in IFL run (9-0)
+   Finished 33 out of 36 victories
+   28 first round finishes
+   20 KO victories
+   13 Submission wins
+   KO Power
+   Improved footwork
^   Will switch stances
+   Excellent pressure fighter
^   Draws counters well
+   Dangerous left hook-right uppercuts
+   Underrated submission game
^   Devastating chokes
+   Effectively uses cage/gets up
+   Granite chin / Physically durable
+/-Takes damage to give damage


Junior Dos Santos (17-4)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’4″ Age: 32 Weight: 242 lbs Reach: 77″
  • Last Fight: TKO loss / Alistar Overeem (12-19-16)
  • Camp: American Top Team (Brazil)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Boxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Former UFC HW Champion
+   BJJ Black Belt
+   13 KO victories
+   4 first round finishes
+   1 Submission win
+   KO Power
+   Accurate left hook
+   Active jab
+   Devastating right hand
+   Underrated counter wrestling
^   80% takedown defense rate
+/-Heavily reliant on head movement
^   Low hands(especially off the break)
^   Counter availabilities
–    Takes damage in victory or defeat
^   Hurt/dropped in 4 of last 5 fights


The main course for Zagreb will feature two of the division’s most dangerous combatants as “Big” Ben Rothwell takes on the former champion Junior “Cigano” Dos Santos. Riding a four-fight win streak, Rothwell will look to parlay his recent momentum into a bid for the title with a victory here. Dos Santos, on the other hand, is coming off a TKO loss to Alistair Overeem last December, as Cigano will look to right his ship and return to the form that got him to the title.

Given each fighters shown stylings, I suspect the majority of this bout to contest and likely be decided on the feet. Although Rothwell has more motive to ground this fight, Junior possesses the consistent takedown defense and get-up ability that generally ensures upright action throughout his matches. There, the former champion will use his patented crisp boxing technique to pick apart his opposition at range. Although limited in his shown arsenal of attacks, Junior’s accurate left hooks, and overhand rights may see the light of day with Rothwell’s often upright head position.

Although he may not be as pretty on his feet, Don’t let Rothwell’s standing demeanor fool you. Utilizing pressure in an awkward but intelligent fashion, Ben will stalk forward while baiting his opposition to initiate exchanges. Most fighters who play this game, ultimately end up paying due to Rothwell’s incredible durability and devastating power. If an opponent doesn’t have answers such as a Cain Velasquez-like transition game, then we often see Rothwell force frantic footwork & bad decisions. In fact, Ben’s pressure fighting is where this path clears the forest for me as I believe it will be a key factor in this fight.

As seen in his bouts with Miro Cro Cop & Mark Hunt, Cigano can outstrike technically superior opponents if allowed enough space to conduct the dance. However, when facing pressure fighters like Cain Velasquez or Stipe Miocic, we see Junior succeed space and struggle in all areas as a consequence. Even if Dos Santos comes in top form and finds his timing early, five rounds is a long time to play keep away with Rothwell should he not find a finish. I do not mean that disrespectfully to Junior, but close quarters will be the worst scenario for him in this particular matchup.

Though Ben is very dangerous inside with hooks & uppercuts, it is Junior’s defensive tendencies that trouble me the most about exchanges. Although demonstrating natural instincts and head movement through most of his career, Dos Santos is arguably a bit too reliant on his reactive speed. Accompanied by a slightly-low standing guard, this trend has been troubling as Junior has been hurt and or dropped in 4 of his last 5 fights. This defensive liability is especially apparent when Cigano exits exchanges, as most incidents occur off breaks or when Junior’s back is to the cage.

Should Dos Santos gain momentum and get Ben to the fence, he will still need to be sensible in his engagements. We have seen Rothwell hurt early in his fight with Schaub, only to come back and decimate Brendan moments later. I do not want to come off as discounting Dos Santos here, as I would likely find myself on the other side of things if this match were five years ago. But after seeing Junior’s physical & emotional demeanor fluctuate throughout these wars, I find it hard to confidently back one of the most fun & friendliest fighters in our sport. Who is confident, however, is Ben Rothwell as I see him earning a title shot before the final bell.

Official Pick: Rothwell – Inside the distance

Official Outcome: Dos Santos – Decision


Gabriel Gonzaga (17-10)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’2″ Age: 36 Weight: 258 lbs Reach: 76″
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Konstantin Erokhin (12-11-15)
  • Camp: Squared BJJ (Massachusetts)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   BJJ Black Belt
+   Multiple Grappling Accolades
+   10 first round finishes
+   8 KO victories
+   8 Submission wins
+   KO Power
+   Improved boxing technique
+   Devastating kicks
^   Head & legs
+   Competent takedown ability
^   Favors attempts against the fence
+   Heavy top game
^   Active passes/positionally sound
+/-Leans heavily forward
^   Accentuates this upon entries
^   Counter availabilities


Derrick Lewis (14-4)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’3″ Age: 31 Weight: 264 lbs Reach: 79″
  • Last Fight: TKO win / Damian Grabowski (2-6-16)
  • Camp: Silverback Fight Club (Texas)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Boxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Regional MMA Titles
+   All wins via stoppage
+   6 first round finishes
+   13 KO victories
+   1 Submission win
+   KO Power
+   Dangerous right hand/uppercuts
+   Underrated kicks
+   Devastating ground striker
+   Developing ground game
+   Improved positional awareness
^   Underrated scrambling ability
+/-Limited tools shown from back
^   Times get-ups/explosions well
+/-Aggressive engagements & choices
^   Counter availabilities


Croatia’s co-main event features a face-off between two of the deadliest finishers in the heavyweight division, as Gabriel “Napao” Gonzaga meets Derrick “The Black Beast” Lewis. Originally slated to face Ruslan Magomedov, Gabe Gonzaga will now take on the dangerous Derrick Lewis. Though taking this fight on short notice, Lewis will have had a few weeks to prepare as he was actively campaigning for this matchup. Looking to thwart the black beasts ascension, Gonzaga will seek to maintain his relevancy with a vintage performance.

Looking at this match on paper, Gonzaga is clearly the more experienced and technically refined fighter. With realistic paths to victory standing or on the mat, an argument in his favor is certainly defensible as he is a live dog here. That said, I feel the stylistic edge standing will go to the hard-hitting Lewis.

Although Gabe has made clear efforts in refining his Boxing technique, he loads his weight heavily on his front foot and will lean his head slightly forward and to the left. This tendency is only accentuated upon his entries, as Gonzaga will often lead with said head position. Oddly enough, there is a method to his madness as Gabriel will use this body language to draw out strikes and create counter opportunities. These forward moving, low-leaning feints will often draw Gabe’s opponents attention low, opening up over the top/right-hand hooks as seen in his fights with Dave Herman & Shawn Jordan.

With that being said, this style has also gotten Gonzaga consistently countered since those fights. Not to mention that leaning forward and to the left will put Gabe’s head directly in Derrick’s high traffic zones. Wielding dangerous right hands and uppercuts, Lewis may have a chance to demonstrate his favorite strikes in style should Gabriel not mind his engagements. Derrick has also been making noted improvements to his striking, as he has been displaying hard kicks in addition to more refined technique.

The most impressive fight-to-fight improvements shown by Lewis is in his counter wrestling, as this will likely be the key factor in this fight. Although Derrick’s aggression has traditionally got him taken down in the open, he has shown intelligent hip awareness in recent fights with displaying proper weight positioning and use of over/under-hooks. Since Gonzaga has a low success rate with shots in the open, it is likely his best chances in grounding Lewis will be against the fence.

If Gonzaga can get Lewis to the floor, his heavy top game could contain the explosive get-up ability of Derrick. In fact, Gabe could very well pass & destroy once this fight hits the floor, and we would have no right to doubt him in doing so. That said, I do not feel we are looking at the same Gabe Gonzaga of old. From the shown tentativeness of his last fight with Erokhin to his lack of aggression on top of a hurt Cro Cop, the black beast is the last man he will want to let back into the fight.

As seen in his bout with Viktor Pesta, Lewis is very accustom to being forced to grapple early and still having the ability to come back late. With only five fights going the distance between both men’s career, I suspect the under will be worth a look at no matter who you are favoring here. Ultimately, I will be siding with youth & momentum to take the right-of-way in this crossroads matchup.

Official Pick: Lewis – Inside the distance

Official Outcome: Lewis – KO (round 1)


Francis Ngannou (6-1)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’4″ Age: 29 Weight: 250 lbs Reach: 83″
  • Last Fight: KO win / Luis Oliveira (12-19-15)
  • Camp: MMA Factory (France)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Regional MMA Accolades
+   3 KO victories
+   3 Submission wins
+   3 first round finishes
+   KO Power
+   Physically imposing
+   Accurate left hand
^   Actively jabs & hooks
+   Developing uppercuts
+   Hard knees inside clinch
+   Improved counter wrestling
^   Deceptively agile hips
–    Struggles from his back


Curtis Blaydes (5-0)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’4″ Age: 25 Weight: 265 lbs Reach: 82.5″
  • Last Fight: TKO win / Kuis Cortez (2-19-16)
  • Camp: Strong Style Fight Team (Oklahoma)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   NJCAA National Heavyweight Champ
+   Amateur MMA Accolades
+   All wins via Knockout
+   2 first round finishes
+   KO Power
+   Deceptive speed
+   Explosive power-double
^   Changes levels well
+   Strong inside the clinch
^   Favors double-legs & suplexes
+   Solid control from top
^   Active strikes & passes
+/-Developing stand up game


Croatia will have no shortage of heavyweight showdowns as prospects, Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blaydes are set to collide. Coming off a devastating knockout win over Henrique Oliviera last December, Francis made his presence known in the division with his Octagon debut. Facing the Frenchman is the 2012’s NJCAA Heavyweight National Wrestling Champion, as this will be Curtis Blaydes first step on the big stage in his MMA career.

With this bout bordering a classic “Striker vs. Grappler” theme, it is strongly reminciscent of Cain Velasquez’s fight with Cheick Kongo. We have a dangerous, rangy striker in Ngannou, who fights slightly upright(common in European kickboxers) but applies a serviceable takedown defense. Opposing that is a National Wrestling Champion, who shows an equal tenacity for striking with a solid transition game to boot.

Being the more technically refined striker standing, Ngannou should be the more consistent threat from range. An active jab helps pave the way for his power shots, but it is largely his left hand that is the accurate and effective conduit. Although he is not as polished on the feet, Blaydes demonstrates natural abilities to move and understand space. Despite throwing sometimes wild techniques, he does a good job of keeping his hands high and changing his level when necessary. Blaydes power double-leg in particular, should serve him well as wrestling will be a key factor in this fight.

Although Francis displays decent under-hook & guard awareness, he still demonstrates fundamental postional struggles when put on his back. If Curtis can successfully change levels or get in on Ngannou’s hips through a clinch, the Frenchman may be in for a three-round wrestling clinic. But if Blaydes fails or overstays his welcome in close quarters, Francis wields hard knees and unforgiving uppercuts that can change the course of this fight. Like most heavyweight affairs, I recommend strong caution in backing either party.

Official Pick: Blaydes – Decision

Official Outcome: Ngannou – TKO (Doctors advice/round 2)


Timothy Johnson (9-2)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’3″ Age: 31 Weight: 265 lbs Reach: 78″
  • Last Fight: Decision loss / Jared Rosholt (8-8-15)
  • Camp: Academy of Combat Arts (Fargo, ND)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Southpaw / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Regional MMA Titles
+   Div. 2 All-American Wrestler
+   6 KO victories
+   7 first round finishes
+   3 Submission wins
+   KO Power
+   Accurate check right hook
+   Good feints / moves well
+   Strong inside clinch
+   Dangerous in close quarters
^   Hard knees & uppercuts
+   Solid wrestling / scramble ability
+/-Aggressive pace & pressure
^   Counter availabilities
+   Durable with deceptive cardio


Marcin Tybura (13-1)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’3″ Age: 30 Weight: 249 lbs Reach: 77″
  • Last Fight: TKO win / Ante Dellja (9-20-15)
  • Camp: United Gym (Poland)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Moderate

Supplemental info:
+   M-1 HW & Grand Prix Champion
+   Brown Belt BJJ
+   5 KO victories
+   9 First round finishes
+   6 Submission wins
+   Solid scramble ability
^   Actively looks for back
+   Excellent rear mount control
+   Effective ground striker
+   Competent takedown game
^   Favors attempts from barrier
+   Fundamental kickboxing approach
+/-Decent head movement
^   Head dips low when fatigued
–    Gas tank bares watching


In the first of four heavyweight affairs featured on the main card, Timothy Johnson welcomes UFC newcomer Marcin Tybura. A former M-1 Heavyweight Champion, Poland’s Tybura will look to test his skills on the highest stage of competition. From serving in the Army to wrestling at a division-2 level, America’s Johnson will be aiming to make a statement overseas as he attempts to spoil the party.

Although primarily a grappler by trade, Tybura has steadily developed a fundamental kickboxing game. Prodding with an active jab, Marcin will casually add his right hand with the occasional mid-to-low kick finish. Although he mainly uses his strikes to mask his clinch entries, he does show good head movement and strike awareness. However, he does display a tendency to dip his head dangerously low, especially when he begins to tire. This habit could be costly against a heavy hitter like Johnson, who just so happens to have a mean uppercut.

Do not let Johnson’s physique fool you, as he moves very well with surprising speed and deceptive cardio. Timothy will often circle to the outside, only to feint and explode his way inside like a lightweight. Though this has cost him his fair share of bumps on the way in, Johnson demonstrates durability and a solid sense of things inside the pocket. Facilitating these transitions is Timothy’s right hook, as he will effectively use it offensively forward, or defensively as a check.

With striking stanzas often being a dice roll at heavyweight, I do give Johnson a slight edge based on his size and staying power. That said, it is inside the clinch where both men prefer to get their games going, making this the key factor for this fight. Lacking the traditional wrestling background or applications, the BJJ brown belt Tybura will lean heavily on clinch engagements to score takedowns. With this being his first bout in an actual cage, it remains to be seen to what effect the Octagon barriers will play on Marcin’s takedown game.

Should Tybura fail in grounding the All-American wrestler, I suspect it will be a long night for Marcin. Not only does Johnson have solid takedown defense, but is also comfortable being up against the fence as he thrives from this position. Even when his back is to the cage, Johnson does a good job of creating space to fire off knees & punches or reverse the situation. Tybura has a strong transition game and can test Timothy should he find his back, but Johnson’s positional awareness may shut that down being that he is a similarly minded scrambler. Regardless of who you favor in this one, I suspect both men’s staying power will make the over well worth looking at here.

Official Pick: Johnson – Decision

Official Outcome: Johnson – Decision


Jan Blachowicz (18-5)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’2″ Age: 33 Weight: 205 lbs Reach: 79″
  • Last Fight: Decision loss / Corey Anderson (9-5-15)
  • Camp: United Gym (Poland)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Moderate

Supplemental info:
+   KSW Light-Heavyweight Titles
+   Muay Thai Accolades
+   Brown Belt BJJ
+   6 First round finishes
+   5 KO victories
+   7 Submission wins
+   KO Power
+   Will switch stances
+   Heavy head & body kicks
^   Favors switch kicks to liver
+   Deceptive uppercuts
+   Strong inside clinch
^   Strikes well off the break
+   Underrated ground game
+   Granite chin
–    Gas tank bares watching


Igor Pokrajac (28-12)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’0″ Age: 37 Weight: 205 lbs Reach: 74″
  • Last Fight: Submission win / Zauri Maisurardze (10-22-15)
  • Camp: American Top Team (Croatia)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Regional MMA Titles
+   Wrestling Base
+   Purple Belt BJJ
+   21 first round finishes
+   15 KO victories
+   8 Submission wins
+   KO Power
+   Strong inside clinch
^   Good dirty boxing
+   Solid pressure against cage
^   Favors takedowns from fence
+   Strong on top
+/-Conservative on bottom
+/-Willingness to trade
^    Aggression allows counters
–    Dropped or stopped in 4 of last 6 fights


Making his return to the UFC, Igor Pokrajac will get to fight in front of his hometown of Zagreb as he draws the dangerous Jan Blachowicz. Since losing his last three fights with the organization, Igor has put together local wins at a lower-level to earn his way back to the big stage. Looking to avoid three consecutive losses himself, Blachowicz will attempt to play the spoiler in Croatia so that he can get back in the mix at light-heavyweight.

Given both fighters aggressive nature on the feet, I suspect this fight may be decided in the striking department. With Pokrajac being the more forward moving of the two, look for him to initiate the engagements as he often favors a blitzkrieg of punches to enter the clinch. Once inside, Igor will mix in healthy doses of dirty boxing with the occasional takedown attempt when against the fence. Although this style could wear down Blachowicz, the fashion in which Pokrajac enters and exits space could cost him in this match up.

Often when punching his way inside, Igor’s head will stay on center as he retracts his hands low off strikes. This habit has traditionally opened him up to counter strikes, as Pokrajac has been significantly hurt and dropped in 4 of 6 of his last fights. Igor has also demonstrated delayed guard retractions in clinch breaks that have cost him badly in past bouts. With Jan excelling from elbows to high-kicks off the break, I would not be surprised to see the amateur Muay Thai Champion capitalize in these spots.

Blachowicz is also the taller, rangier man, who employs a much more active jab. Mixing in healthy doses of deceptive shovel hooks & uppercuts, Jan fires a nasty switch-kick to the liver that he favors finishing his combinations with. These attacks, in particular, could expose the sometimes non-committal hand positioning of Pokrajac. That said, Blachowicz will have to manage his output should he not find the finish.With Jan showing stamina issues in recent bouts, Igor could push this issue if he can get inside and force grappling exchanges.

Even if Pokrajac fails on takedown attempts, making Blachowicz defend could pay dividends later in the fight. However, Jan is no slouch when it comes to counter wrestling or grappling. Wielding an underrated guard game, Igor will have to mind his manners when playing on top. That said, Pokrajac possesses similar sensibilities on the mat that could create stalemates on the floor. Although I don’t want to discount a fighter due to their age, it is hard to overlook Igor’s recent level of performances & opposition at this stage of his career. Should Blachowicz operate near his potential, I doubt the judges scorecards will be needed.

Official Pick: Blachowicz – Inside the distance

Official Outcome: Blachowicz – Decision.


Maryna Moroz (6-1)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’7″ Age: 24 Weight: 115 lbs Reach: 67″
  • Last Fight: Decision loss / Valerie Letourneau (8-23-15)
  • Camp: YK Promotion (Ukraine)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Boxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Ukraine National Boxing Team
+   Master of Sports: Kickboxing
+   Master of Sports: Boxing
+   5 Submission wins
+   1 KO victory
+   Manages distance well
^   Will switch stances
+   Hard left hook-right hand
+   Solid lead leg kicks
+   Dangerous Arm-bars
+/-Will pull guard
+/-Very aggressive
^   Counter availabilities


Cristina Stanciu (5-0)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’4″ Age: 22 Weight: 115 lbs Reach: 63″
  • Last Fight: Submission win / Renata Cseh-Lantos (12-14-15)
  • Camp: Absoluto Bucharest (Romania)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Wushu Sanda/Kickboxing Titles
+   Multiple Grappling Accolades
+   Purple Belt BJJ
+   5 Submission wins
+   1 KO victory
+   Solid footwork
+   Accurate front kick
+   Hard hooks from both sides
+   Strong & active hips
^   Excellent arm-bar instincts
+   Competent takedown ability
+/-Very aggressive
^   Sometimes throws self out of position


Kicking off the main card is an exciting strawweight scrap as Maryna Moroz meets Cristina Stanciu. As their striking credentials would suggest, both women are well-equipped to indulge in their taste for trading. With each fighter carrying a high finish rate, expect a tight contest as these two tough individuals will play for keeps.

Starting off on the feet, I feel Maryna is the more technical striker, albeit slightly. Darting in-an-out off her rear leg, Moroz accentuates her length with straight punches accompanied by hooks & uppercuts when appropriate. Maryna also has underrated kicks off her lead leg that could help corral or keep her shorter opposition at bay. If Moroz can establish her jab early, her range management and aggression could take over the fight. Maryna will, however, have to show improvements in her head movement against the dangerous strikes of Stanciu.

Coming from a Wushu Sanda background, Cristina has the striking variety to counter from many angles. Although Stanciu is not as technically sound in a traditional sense, she should have an advantage in firepower coming in from a higher weight class. Cristina also has solid footwork that she will need to lean on in order to get inside. Possessing hard hooks from both sides, Stanciu could create chaos in her favor should she not get beat to the punch.

Cristina may also create grappling opportunities inside, as I feel she should have the wrestling/takedown edge. Moroz traditionally shows little priority in defending takedowns, as she will often oblige her opposition by pulling guard. Despite Maryna’s dangerous armbar game, she may have her strength canceled out being that the armbar is also Cristina’s go-to move. Even though Stanciu has the on-paper advantage in the grappling department, it will be interesting to see how she fairs against the active game of Moroz should she not find a finish.

It will also be interesting to see how Cristina’s debut in the UFC and at straw-weight will affect her stamina as she has shown fatigue issues in her lone 3-round fight. With the low sample size and propensity for growth from each fighter, the intangible level will be high going into this bout. Although I strongly caution heavy plays here, I feel the length & aggression of the Ukrainian will ultimately pay off.

Official Pick: Moroz – Decision

Official Outcome: Moroz – Decision

Preliminary Card Predictions

  • Dalby def. Cummmings
  • Entwistle def. Perez
  • Hadzovic def. Taisumov
  • Pejic def. Stasiak
  • Whiteford def. Martins
  • Asker def. Cannonier
  • Di Chirico def. Velickovic

Recommended Plays

Fantasy MMA Picks

High Tier Picks:

-Ian Entwistle
-Ben Rothwell
-Derrick Lewis

Low Tier Picks:

-Robert Whiteford
-Timothy Johnson
-Filip Pejic

Pieces for your parlay:

-Ian Entwistle
-Jan Blachowicz
-Nicolas Dalby

Props worth looking at(5Dimes.eu):

-Timothy Johnson – by Decision: +455
-Jan Blachowicz – Inside the distance: -115
-Rothwell/Dos Santos – under: +125

Fights to avoid:

-Mairbek Taisumov vs Damir Hadzovic
-Filip Pejic vs Damian Stasiak
-Alessio Di Chirico vs Bojan Velickovic

For the complete analysis of future & past UFC events visit MixedMartialAnalyst.com and for future breakdowns & your latest in world-wide MMA news, stay tuned & follow @MMALatestnws MMALatestNews.com

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