A pivotal heavyweight matchup between Ben Rothwell and Junior Dos Santos headlines the UFC's first ever fight card in Zagreb, Croatia, this Sunday, April 10 (12 P.M. EST / 9 A.M. PST, FOX Sports 1).
Currently ranked fourth by the UFC, Rothwell (36-9, 6-3 UFC) is in the midst of a career resurgence, stringing together four consecutive victories dating back to 2013. Rothwell, who built his reputation as a heavy-hitting brawler, is coming off a pair of submission wins, using his signature "go go choke." And while Rothwell is looking better than ever of late, his upcoming opponent, Dos Santos, enters the bout on the heels of a loss.
The former UFC heavyweight champion of the world, Dos Santos (17-4, 11-3 UFC) once set a divisional record with nine consecutive victories inside the Octagon. But it's been nearly four years since Dos Santos has put together back-to-back wins, and in his most recent bout, the former champ suffered the earliest knockout loss of his career.
With Rothwell nearing title contention, and Dos Santos in decline, this bout is likely to end early, as the American from Kenosha, Wisconsin will pressure forward with jabs and low kicks. Dos Santos will patiently attempt to counter strike and wrestle from the clinch, but both fighters will thwart all takedowns.
Ultimately, Rothwell will take this bout via knockout, as Dos Santos has demonstrated an inability to take too many punches of late. Expect Dos Santos to tie up the action while trying to pick his shots, but Rothwell has shown an increased skill set and technical base with every bout, and will eventually find a big enough opening to land the finishing shots.
Co-main event: Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Derrick Lewis
One of five heavyweight bouts on Sunday's card, this matchup between Gonzaga (17-10, 12-9 UFC) and Lewis (14-4, 5-2 UFC) will be largely contested on the feet, as both fighters carry finishing rates of over 90-percent into the Octagon.
Gonzaga, who once fought for the UFC title, has delivered at least one of the promotion's most-memorable knockouts during his decade under the Zuffa banner, when, back in 2007, the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt surprisingly head kicked Croatia's own Mirko Cro Cop.
Lewis is a serviceable heavyweight, in a division where it's often difficult to find and retain top-tier talent. Having finished all five of his Octagon victories, Lewis has one-punch knockout power. But what Lewis does not possess is an equal acumen on the ground, where Gonzaga excels.
And while heavyweight bouts are known for ending early, this contest has real potential to go the distance, as Gonzaga has an ability to slow fights down and stall the action. After fifteen minutes, look for Gonzaga to take the unanimous decision.
Jan Blachowicz vs. Igor Pokrajac
An all eastern-European affair, this light heavyweight bout features a pair of strikers, as Blachowicz looks to even his UFC record against Pokrajac, who returns to the Octagon after a year on the regional circuit.
Blachowicz (18-5, 1-2 UFC) burst onto the UFC radar in 2014, stunning Sweden's Ilir Latifi. But the win instantly propelled the Polish athlete into tougher matchups, resulting in back-to-back losses against top-fifteen opponents.
Pokrajac (28-12 1 NC, 4-7 1 NC UFC), who enters his second run with the UFC after recording three-straight stoppages in lower-tier promotions, comes from a kickboxing background. A native of Zagreb, Pokrajac is the most high profile local fighter on Sunday's card, and while he's encountered plenty of adversity inside the Octagon, he's basically taken out everyone else in the former Yugoslavia.
There is no doubt that the crowd at Arena Zagreb will be with Pokrajac come fight night, but Blachowicz holds the edge on the feet and on the ground and owns superior athleticism.
Look for Blachowicz to earn the TKO in the second round.