HeavyweightsOvince St. Preux (24-13) vs. Ben Rothwell (37-12)
ODDS: St. Preux (-150), Rothwell (+130)
With the UFC attempting to book fights in the middle of global pandemic, things figured to get weird, but this one is still surprising. St. Preux is a strange fighter to begin with and a bit of a cautionary tale. A former linebacker at the University of Tennessee, he has been a plus athlete but chose to stick with his small camp rather than pursue higher-level training. While that works for some people, things never quite coalesced for St. Preux. Rather than having any sort of overarching theory to his fights, he was basically left with a grab bag of unorthodox skills that were held together by duct tape and athleticism. That was still enough to get him to the fringes of the title picture in the island of misfit toys that is light heavyweight, but things have gotten much dicier now that St. Preux has slowed down in his late 30s. His output has waned, so it is mostly up to his opponents to charge right into a weird submission or whatever else St. Preux has up his sleeve, and since this is the light heavyweight division, Tyson Pedro and Michal Oleksiejczuk were the latest to happily oblige. Now St. Preux is moves up to heavyweight, where he faces another oddball in Rothwell.
Rothwell has been a mainstay of the heavyweight division for well over a decade and was an unorthodox fighter even at his peak. “Big Ben” is a gigantic man, and while he was never a technically good striker, he was surprisingly nimble on his feet. Between his herky-jerky movement, knockout power and a surprisingly strong grappling game, the Wisconsin native had more than enough to keep most opponents on their toes. Rothwell rode a four-fight winning streak into a 2016 headliner against Junior dos Santos, but a one-sided loss showed a clear ceiling to his approach. Things only got worse from there, as a drug test failure and a major knee injury kept Rothwell out of action for nearly three years. Upon his return in March 2019, Rothwell was a shadow of his past self. His durability remains a weapon, but at 38 years old, Rothwell has slowed down enough that his striking and defense are mostly ineffective. He still managed to get a win over Stefan Struve in December, but a lot of that was thanks to unintentionally kicking Struve in the groin repeatedly, which threw off the Dutchman enough to set up a knockout. Rothwell could definitely use a win here.
This is St. Preux’s fight to lose, which he just might do. He is now more reliant than ever on his weird array of finishing techniques, and Rothwell is still extremely tough to stop; if this goes 15 minutes, St. Preux’s gas tank has been inconsistent from fight to fight. However, since Rothwell’s pressure no longer accomplishes much, St. Preux should be able to win rounds by staying evasive and hitting the former International Fight League standout, even if the full-time heavyweight stays standing. The concern is that the extra weight slows down St. Preux down or causes him to have an off night. Nevertheless, St. Preux by decision is the pick in a fight that could get tedious at times.
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