Ex-French Special Forces solider, Benoit “God of War” Saint-Denis is making the walk to the UFC octagon for the second time in his career. His first appearance was a unanimous decision loss in a fight where many were hoping his corner threw in the towel but Saint-Denis survived to see the judges’ scorecards.
Niklas “Green Mask” Stolze, 29, is three years older than Saint-Denis and is also winless in the UFC. Stolze is 0-2 with a decision and knockout loss.
Saint-Denis opened as a slight favorite and has held steady throughout the week. BetUS offers -160 odds on Saint-Denis before UFC Fight Night 207.
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St. Denis is typically a grappling fighter but was forced into a striking battle against a veteran striker in his debut. He did not showcase much offense to speak of, but, he did prove he has a granite chin and a will to keep going, even while getting pieced up. Between eating heavy combinations, St. Denis showed he could return fire with counter shots that had some heat behind them. However, his striking was more of a survival tactic than an attack. He can be bullied back into the cage, often stands stationary, rarely moves his head, and is a hittable target. However, when he looks to counter, St. Denis often throws in combination and his hooks land with power. Grappling, though, is where the 26-year-old lives. Of his 8 professional wins, 7 have come via submission. His typical approach to grappling is to force a fight into the clinch, then drag his opponent down. Once down, St. Denis is adept at transitioning into an advantageous position to secure a choke.
Stolze has a kickboxing background that contradictorily relies on counter striking rather than dictating range. Typically, fighters with the length of Stolze and similar desire to kickbox from range will fight behind a high-volume jab and/or frequent leg kick so they can keep their opponents at range where their full arsenal of attacks are available. Interestingly, Stolze tends to fight with a more counter puncher’s style, he allows his opponent to move forward, dictate pace and range, and looks to land a counter punch or kick in return. The downside to this approach is when Stolze fails to manage range, his opponent can crash distance safely and neutralize Stolze’s length and kicking game. When Stolze is in the range to land his attacks, he tends to land with solid combinations of punches and kicks that he strings together quickly. In both of his losses, there were moments where Stolze’s offense looked crisp and dangerous. However, his unwillingness to manage pace and space resulted in his opponent getting in tight and eventually getting the fight to the mat. Once on the mat, Stolze struggles to scramble and can be controlled for long periods of time.
Both men have a clear path to victory and a clear path to defeat. If St. Denis can pressure forward early, create the clinch fight he prefers, and get Stolze down to the mat, he could win a decision or even find the submission. However, if Stolze makes that path into the pocket more dangerous by striking from range, St. Denis’ tendency to be a stationary target could result in Stolze picking him apart for 15 minutes. I just haven’t seen enough from Stolze to make me believe he can use his striking arsenal effectively for 15 minutes, so, at some point, I expect St. Denis to get the fight down. Once there, a submission wouldn’t surprise me.
Prediction: St. Denis to win via submission