Junior Dos Santos vs Ben Rothwell: Cigano’s Victory with Measured Boxing (Skill Breakdown)

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The clash between two heavy hitters, Junior “Ciganos” Dos Santos and Ben Rothwell has finally met its conclusion and to much of our surprise, this fight fight went the distance while maintaining a nice display of fluid striking.This fight was pretty straight forward and the game-plan from Dos Santos was quite transparent; utilize the jab, changes levels, kill rhythm, and circle away from the cage to take back the center of the octagon. This is the barest generalization one can take away from the fight. If you’re curious about just how Junior’s craft found its rhythm, I’ll be exploring those exact details in this piece. We’ll be able to see what aspects of Dos Santos’ boxing proved successful and the downfalls of Rothwell’s tendencies.

Classic boxing

In Dos Santos’ post fight octagon interview, he mentions how big Rothwell is and that he knew it wasn’t a smart idea to stay on the inside with him. Surely enough, Junior used a lot of in and out movement against Rothwell, rarely staying on the inside to allow Rothwell a chance to counter back. This was one of the main basis of what made Dos Santos so defensively sound. He was able to initiate an offensive entry and reset with minimal chances of Rothwell returning counters.

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Enter and escape.

This fight showed Dos Santos’ boxing at its finest. It was all classical boxing fundamentals landing the majority of the time. As an overall assessment, it was the feints and angular changes in striking that brought Dos Santos’ the bulk of his success when going on the offensive. With these simple approaches, Dos Santos effectively manipulated several aspects of the fight.


Feinting to Measure

The ability to use feints in a fight becomes one of the most valuable tools to use, especially against any elite fighter. Even the most godly fighter will be proven to be human from the power of a fighter’s ability to feint. Everyone has rhythm that’s breakable, and that’s exactly what feints can do. Feinting provides so much utility to a fighter, it’s nearly impossible to go without it in high level competition. In Dos Santos’s fight with Rothwell, feinting was used in various ways to measure and manipulate Rothwell.

With Dos Santos, he used a combination of feints with his hand and footwork. It was more apparent he used his footwork to feint his advancement’s forward. By feinting, Dos Santos was able to do two important things that opened up a variety of opportunities for him; for one, he was able to measure Rothwell’s reactions in order to predict his head movement, and two, he was able to draw out simultaneous counters.

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Dos Santos feinting to draw out Rothwell’s attempts to time a simultaneous kick.

Flaw In Stance

By feinting and measuring, Dos Santos could see that Rothwell didn’t quite have many options for defending. Rothwell’s main options for defending consisted of the following:

  1. Stiff arm to keep him away
  2. Slip left
  3. Slip right

(note that none of these options are viable to defend body shots)

One big issue with Rothwell’s stance is that he stands up straight in a more squared stance. Unlike some boxing-oriented fighters like Dos Santos or Nate Diaz, they tend to posture forward and/or stay linear. By posturing forward or just by having a more bladed linear stance, you have the ability of moving the head in various directions. You can slip right, left, or pull the head back.

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A more bladed linear stance allows for better balance at the base of the feet to pull the head back.

To see the benefit from a more forward postured stance, here’s a demonstration of Dominick Cruz’ posture to utilize a pull.

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Dominick Cruz has the option to pull the head back to evade and counter.

These next examples show how Dos Santos had the ability to use head pulling to defensively remain out of striking range.

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Note here that Dos Santos is more linear and posses the ability to pull the head back and slip his head laterally.
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Here Dos Santos is in a more linear stance with a  slightly forward posture. He can fire a jab and pull the head back within inches away from counter punches.

With Rothwell’s stance, because he’s standing with his spine so straight up in a squared manner (feet spread laterally apart), he doesn’t have the omni-directional options that a linear boxer has for head movement. As a result, his main options were to slip right, or slip left. One of the advantages of being able to pull the head back is that the head is removed from striking range and it allows you to drop your arms to protect the body.

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Take note of how you can drop the arms to protect the body as you pull the head away from punching range.

Nonetheless, Rothwell’s upright squared stance gave up these advantages and confined his defenses to a narrow rock, paper, scissors game of finding his openings. Rothwell’s simultaneous counters didn’t always work either with Dos Santos constantly feeding him several feints to draw them out.

Dos Santos identified every defensive reaction Rothwell had and answered every single one of them with effective offensive strategies. Check out the following examples:

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Here Dos Santos knows the area’s Rothwell’s head position slips and tags him in either angle with his jab.

When Ben tried to keep him at distance with his stiff arm, Dos Santos moved passed it.

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The arm is parried down and a cross is thrown.
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Often times, fighters like Jon Jones uses his long reach to keep fighters at bay by push blocking the head. Dos Santos completely moves pass the stiff-arm by changing levels going to the body.

After several exchanges and feints used to measure Ben’s reaction, it was obvious Dos Santos had known where Rothwell’s head would move. It was so transparent to the point that Dos Santos actually managed to predict and throw his cross straight into a slipping position where Rothwell’s head would move.

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Here Dos Santos was able to predict and catch Rothwell’s head position on numerous occasions.

With the shallow options for head movement, Dos Santos had a relatively high chance of just predicting where the head would slip.


Dos Santos threw so many jabs to the body (A record breaking amount for the Heavyweight division). The fact that Rothwell had confined his defense to slipping left, right and stiff-arming, he had no real answer to the body jab other than absorbing them.

To extend the use of jabs even further, Dos Santos was able to stuff and kill Rothwell’s rhythm on several occasions. When Rothwell attempted to use his stance switching and head movement he had used in the past to approach, but Dos Santos shut him down with quick swift jabs. Rothwell’s head movement simply wasn’t quick enough to outwork the simple movement of a swift jab.

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Dos Santos tagging Rothwell as he attempts to utilize head movement and stance switching to approach.

The offensive Craft of Dos Santos

Dos Santos had several unique sequences of utilizing classical boxing to open up Rothwell. I don’t want to go over every single one, but I will mention one’s that stood out to me and ones that played a significant role in winning the fight.

Dos Santos’ use of elevation change was an instrumental part of his striking game. In particular, it was his jabs to the body that help him manipulate Rothwell’s guard.

Conditioning The guard

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Dos Santos Goes low with a jab then switches to an overhand to the head after seeing where Rothwell’s head will be exposed.
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Dos Santos conditions Rothwell to raise his guard high by jabbing then throws to the exposed body.

The basics of this boxing strategy was rudimentary yet effective since it allowed Dos Santos to control Rothwell’s guard. If Dos Santos hit one level, Rothwell would expose himself on another level. The real downfall for Rothwell was his lack of answers for the shots to the body. He had only prioritized displacing and protecting the head with little effort to protect or move the body.

Killing the Rhythm with Feints

Dos Santos used a variety of feints to open up Rothwell’s guard and manipulated his movements. This is where his power really shined since he was able to fire off his power by exposing Rothwell’s head. Here a few strategies used by Dos Santos.

In this example, Dos Santos does a very quick fake with his fist to draw out Rothwell’s typical reaction to slip his head, when he baits Rothwell’s head where he wants it, Dos Santos unloads a power hook followed by more power shots.

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Watch closely as Dos Santos fakes the hand quickly. Rothwell exposes the head, Dos Santos immediately catches the head with a lead hook and follows up with more shots.
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Here Dos Santos feints to draw Rothwell’s guard up. As soon as he releases his guard, Dos Santos kills his rhythm by jabbing the exposed head.
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Here Dos Santos feints a spinning kick. It manipulates Ben to move away from the power side of where the kick comes and steers Rothwell into Dos Santos’ body kick.

The keys to Dos Santos’ victory lied in the variety of feints he fed Rothwell, angle changes and the fact that he didn’t stay on the inside for Rothwell to eat his counters. Even when Rothwell attempted to cut him off into the cage, Dos Santos would answer him with a check hook with attempts to circling out to gain the center of the cage back again.

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Check hooks.

This fight was pretty one-sided when looking at who was most technically sound in the exchanges. Rothwell had nice moments of landing good shots, but he lacked the ability to recreate those opportunities in the same fashion Dos Santos was able to. Rothwell would regularly approach in a predictiable rhythm, making it hard for him to connect with his shots.

The most prominent sequences where Rothwell did connect was because he connected by offsetting Dos Santos’ rhythm. Here are a few examples.

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Rothwell using feints to draw Dos Santos off into the cage. He drives him into the direction of his kick and follow up punch.

It would have been ideal for Rothwell to also utilize feinting more. Dos Santos has a tendency to keep distance and mainly engage when he leads. As Rothwell used feints, Dos Santos gave up ground to maintain that distance. By feinting, Rothwell was at least able to force Dos Santos to give ground into the cage where it was the most optimal time to drive in for an attack.

This next sequence proved useful for the moment. Rothwell doubling up on his strikes. He was able to enter with fast fluid volume of which kept Dos Santos actively engaged in his defensive state. The beauty behind doubling up with a sequential straight punch is that it can allow you to chain a continuation of strikes. Nick Diaz is known to utilize this kind of striking to drown opponent’s in punches. You can chain fast sequential punches that leave little windows for the opponent to counter back, essentially trapping them in a defensive mode.

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Double striking.

Rothwell did land some pretty good kicks but they didn’t quite play into something meaningful enough to facilitate a strategy towards victory.

In the past, Junior Dos Santos had demonstrated signs of early fatigue, so much to our surprise, he was able to fight an entire five rounds against Ben Rothwell. Perhaps this is a sign of maturity on Dos Santos end to fight the championship rounds. Then again, this may also leave one wondering if he can still keep up the same pace against a pressure oriented fighter who will force tiresome wrestling exchanges like Cain Valasquez had done.

In a fight, it’s natural that opponents try to mimic each other in hopes of landing the shot that was given to them. Here’s a little compilation of Dos Santos and Rothwell trying to mimic each other.

Forum discussion on this piece. Or here.

For more breakdowns of other fighters, visit my main page for a list of breakdowns.


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