One of the more power-packed match-ups of the evening at UFC 115 will be the heavyweight tilt between IFL veteran Ben Rothwell (30-7, 0-1 UFC) and the hot-tempered Dutch striker Gilbert Yvel (36-14-1-1, 0-1 UFC). Both men will be looking to rebound from debut losses as Rothwell was pounded out by Cain Velasquez at UFC 104 while Yvel was knocked out by Junior Dos Santos at UFC 108. Both heavyweights are fairly irrelevant in the mix at the top of the division, but an impressive performance on Saturday night could go a long way to creating some bigger fights for the pair.
As we can see from both records, each fighter has more than enough experience for us to know what to expect here. Rothwell tends to use his boxing and kickboxing to batter opponents, but he also has a respectable ground game from the top. As Velasquez showed however, Rothwell isn't exactly well-versed in escaping from his back against controlling wrestlers, and his takedown defense isn't phenomenal when he's backpedaling and on the defensive.
Yvel's style hasn't really changed in years. He relies heavily on his powerful kickboxing and Muay Thai base to produce spectacular knockouts, and he has a highly underrated Brazilian jiu-jitsu ground game. Yvel will be the first to tell you he absolutely loathes the ground game however, but he's more than capable of escaping from positions off his back.
Some of the interviews leading up to this bout have been interesting. Yvel has been claiming that he only hit the pads a couple of times in preparation for Junior Dos Santos. Apparently, the fact that his training partners that existed didn't show up anymore in conjunction with the holidays caused Yvel to have next to no sparring partners for the battle. Instead of a competitive stand-up contest, Yvel looked rather sloppy.
The question is whether Yvel can tighten up his kickboxing and be a threat to Rothwell's own stand-up game. I'm going to assume Yvel will spar more than twice for this fight, but his previous bout with Dos Santos certainly doesn't inspire confidence that he'll come out victorious here. He looked absolutely sloppy in his approach, and Rothwell, even for an immense heavyweight, moves rather well in and out of range. Yvel will expose his own chin, just like in the Dos Santos fight, if he goes for broke and lunges for shots.
Where Yvel does succeed is in the disruption of his opponent's footwork and the subsequent scrambles it produces. He has the strength to put even the heaviest opponents off balance, and in the scramble -- his power can be brutalizing. Rothwell's length will ultimately be a problem in Yvel getting to him, but Yvel's power is so considerable that Rothwell could be very hesitant to start.
How this fights turns out really depends on Rothwell's gameplan and what Yvel intends to do about his reach. Once Rothwell feels Yvel's power, can he respond effectively without changing up his gameplan completely? I think Rothwell can win on both the ground and standing in this fight, but Yvel has the ultimate x-factor with his power. Unpredictability is something Yvel has always had in his back pocket, and it could show up in spectacular fashion in this fight.
To be honest, I think Yvel has a good shot at the upset here. Rothwell's fight against Arlovski has really left the impression that he doesn't handle power punchers very well, and his odd tendency to try to clinch continuously with Arlovski in that fight would prove fruitless against Yvel. Yvel's power off the clinch would likely devastate Rothwell in close quarters.
Rothwell seems to lean toward a takedown game against dangerous strikers, and Yvel's jiu-jitsu isn't bad at all. In the clinch, I think he has the advantage as well, and I'm going to roll with the upset here. Rothwell has the tools to win, but I'll go with Yvel's power factor.