"Big" Ben Rothwell (31-8) was a member of the old-school Miletich Fighting Systems clique who broke into the limelight with a stellar run in the IFL promotion. Rothwell carried in a strong 20-5 record and went undefeated at 9-0, crushing 5 opponents by TKO -- two of which were over former UFCer Krzysztof Soszynski -- and tapping 2 with submissions. Only the irrepressible Roy Nelson (split) and former UFC heavyweight champion Ricco Rodriguez (unanimous) survived to decisions.
The appeal of Rothwell's style was that, for a massive heavyweight (6'4", 264-pounds), he fought with cat-like agility and could snap off fight-ending high kicks like a lightweight. His wrestling wasn't too shabby either and the way he snatched power-subs from the top signified his diversity. Post-IFL, Rothwell split a pair of fights: a 3rd-round TKO loss to Andrei Arlovski -- another former UFC champion -- in Affliction and a 1st-round submission win via elbows in a smaller show.
Finally showing up in the UFC, Big Ben drew future UFC heavyweight champion (there's a theme here) Cain Velasquez and wasn't pleased with the 2nd-round TKO loss. Velasquez had attached himself to Rothwell and swarmed with a torrent of unending strikes and, when Rothwell made the conscious decision to eat a few shots in order to stand back up, the referee interpreted it as unintelligent defense. He's fought just once per year in the UFC and broke even in his last series with a win over Gilbert Yvel and a lackluster defeat to Mark Hunt, both by decision.
Brendan "The Hybrid" Schaub (8-2) was a fullback for the University of Colorado who moved on to play pro-football with the AFL and join the practice team for the Buffalo Bills. Hooking up with Shane Carwin at The Grudge Training Center, a Jackson's MMA affiliate school, he started training boxing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in 2006, won a Golden Gloves title in 2007, a Colorado BJJ tournament in 2008 and began his pro MMA career that same year. It took Schaub roughly 3.5 minutes to TKO 4 opponents in the 1st round, which secured him a slot on TUF 10 -- and the striking devastation continued from there.
Complete analysis in the full entry.
Amidst a crew of lumbering heavyweights, most of whom were inexperienced in the fight game, tapping his first opponent with an Anaconda choke was portentous of Schaub's lurking talent. He clobbered Jon Madsen and Marcus Jones with more 1st-round brutality to make the finals, where he fell victim to a blistering overhand from Roy Nelson.
Schaub regrouped and rattled off another pair of 1st-round beatings (Chase Gormley, Chris Tuchscherer) before dabbling with opposition of a higher caliber in Gabriel Gonzaga and Mirko "CroCop" Filipovic. Gonzaga was defeated handily, though he had his moments and lasted to a decision, and CroCop was finished off in the 3rd with punches. Having established himself as a legitimate contender, Schaub drew adored legend and former Pride champ Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who registered a shocking upset in his homeland with a dramatic knockout at UFC 134.
The Match Up
The factor that immediately stands out is athleticism. Whether it's due to high mileage, the increased level of competition in the UFC or the ring vs. cage dynamics, Rothwell has not been the same nimble behemoth of yesteryear. In the past, his combination of hulking size and surprising dexterity allowed him to choose between overpowering quicker and smaller heavyweights or out-maneuvering large and powerful heavyweights.
The reduced fighting area of the square IFL ring was more conducive to his style than the increased space and open format of the Octagon. With the 90-degree corners of the ring, the number of angles at play are minimized and therefore the required footwork is also simplified -- it becomes much more of a head-on battle. In the ring, you have room for a few pivots before running out of real estate; the Octagon requires an endless chain of motive adjustments.
Regardless of my theory, Rothwell seems to have lacked the admirable mobility that was so integral to his dominance. Now, the catch with Rothwell is that he encountered one of the fastest heavies in the frenetically paced Velasquez and likely suffered from Denver's altitude against Mark Hunt. Additionally, the Ben Rothwell we saw against Gilbert Yvel in the 1st round was classic Big Ben. He vaulted out of his corner with a blazing combination, sprung a takedown when Yvel's feet were planted and immediately passed guard to threaten with submissions. Unfortunately, that vivacious activity gradually dwindled as the fight progressed and Yvel, who is well known for having a suspect ground game, was able to sweep Rothwell from the bottom (with an Americana, no less) and inflict damage with top-side pounding.
Schaub is a fine-tuned athlete with incredible strength, explosiveness and agility. He's just as tall as Rothwell (6'4"), his conditioning has been bulletproof and he doesn't have a glaring weakness to exploit. Even though both of his losses have come by way of strikes and Rothwell is a rugged kickboxer, Big Ben has run out of steam after the first and his punching power declines at an equal rate.
Along with his exemplary athleticism and agility, I see Schaub's quick, crisp and powerful boxing being too much for Rothwell. If Schaub can survive Rothwell's aggression in the first, I see him capitalizing in later rounds with big punches or perhaps even pouncing after a knockdown for a stoppage on the floor.
My Prediction: Brendan Schaub by decision.