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By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief, and Rich Hansen, MMATorch Columnist
UFC heavyweight Ben Rothwell surprised a lot of people last month at UFC 145, knocking out Brendan Schaub after coming into the event in perhaps the best shape of his lengthy, 40-fight career. After the fight, he gave a heartfelt speech to UFC commentator Joe Rogan, as well as the fans in the arena, giving off the impression that a loss in that fight could have been the end for him.
As he tells it, that's just what it was.
"It was really truly all or nothing; this was no joke," Rothwell told MMATorch's Rich Hansen on Monday. "That's why there's such a monumental impact in how I changed things for myself. I made the biggest stir at the weigh-ins, I had KO of the night; I caught everybody's attention so I had to tell them at the end. It was a perfect fight that I needed, and I really worked so hard to not expect any results. I've been held back for a lot of years for a lot of reasons. Now I have some bright people around me, and I have people around me that deserve to be recognized as well, and together we're doing this, and we're going to make history."
Rothwell's physique was a particular topic of conversation at UFC 145, especially considering the really poor performance he put forth in his bout with Mark Hunt in high altitude in Denver, Colo. last October. The 30-year-old definitely has some regret over how his career has gone to date, especially considering how he performed in this most recent fight.
"Now that the world got to see a little bit of my potential, imagine living with that for this many years and being somewhat successful but not really showing what you could do," Rothwell opined. "It's pretty hard to deal with when I look in the mirror and know that I wasn't who I was supposed to be; and for the first time in my life I look in the mirror and see the man I've always wanted to be, and the man I'm proud to be. It took a lot of hard work to get here; there's no substitute for hard work, and I know that now. I have the right people around me to help me mentally and spiritually get through it, physically do the things necessary to do it, to now stand and say the things that I say."
"I'm 100% confident behind it, because I know I've done the work and put in the time to do this and to be who I am. It's because of them and the positive energy. People looking at my physique, the physique was a statement that I wasn't serious. When people saw me at weigh-ins [at UFC 145], they knew I was serious."
That seriousness led to a huge first round finish of Schaub, who had appeared to have Rothwell hurt prior to the finishing sequence. However, Rothwell said that characterization is inaccurate, and said he was baiting Schaub prior to the final exchange.
"He came in purposely... I moved backwards," Rothwell explained. "I heard the crowd's reaction and it baited him to come forward and to stand in front of me and not hop out quickly like he can. It was perfect. I just began to start the combination, the triple three in the beginning. The reason the third hit so hard and devastating - it didn't need much space."
"If you do any of my striking classes, you'll understand that I'll teach you how to knock someone out in six inches or less," he continued. "You do not need a lot of space; if you know how to use your body, use your hips and use your legs - and I've got very strong hips and legs - I put that power behind my left hand, and you saw the results."
"A 240 lb. NFL pro athlete crumbled to the ground before my feet."
After that fight, Rothwell heard a lot of commentary about potentially stepping in on the shuffled up UFC 146 card coming later this month. However, he insists that wasn't something he was remotely considering despite a quick fight at UFC 145, and he lashed out at those suggesting it was a feasible option for him.
"The media wanted me to do it; they're not the ones that have to go and fight in front of people," he said. "They're not the ones that just went through a five or six round training camp. They're like 'oh, you're fine, just get a quick fight, just go in there and fight again.' It's more of this 'just do this and just do that.' It's just like the guys that watch at the bar, and sit there and go 'why doesn't the guy just do this or just do that.' Because you have no idea what we really go through, and people don't understand."
"No, I had no interest to fight [at UFC 146]. I didn't need to prove myself in May that fast. Yeah, the guys are all tough. Any one of the guys on that card are tough. I had a great fight, I don't need to do it that quick."
He did admit one fight would have made sense for him on shorter notice, and that would have been if he had a chance to step in against Fabricio Werdum in June. However, he was then booked for the August 4 UFC on Fox 4 card against Travis Browne, a much more suitable return timetable.
Rothwell credits a lot of his current positivity and success to trainers Thiago Veiga and Luiz Claudio, who have broken a string of poor professional relationships for Rothwell, bringing about an entirely new outlook on his place in the sport and what he needs to do overall.
"I come from a long history of being hurt a lot, having coaches I feel didn't do the right thing for me or didn't have my best interest in mind," Rothwell revealed. "I put these people on a very high platform in my life. To have them stab me in my back made me very reluctant to be nice to people and to trust anybody. It was very negative. Luis and Thiago were people that I finally found that I could put my heart into and not get stabbed because they were just like me, and they're good people. You say that all the time that there are good people, but they're good people because they care so much about the people around them."
"They care more about the people around them than they do about themselves. They would give their lives up for the people around them without a second thought, and that's not something you encounter everyday. That's why they're so special. And because they mean so much to me, I'll listen to them, because their message is clear: I'm going to be the best I can be. In that, there just happens to be a world title [in the future], and that's just a step as well."
As evidence of one of those darker spots in his career, Rothwell commented on a February 2010 bout with Mirko Cro Cop at UFC 110. Rothwell was forced off the card with a bad illness in the days leading up to the event, but he says that was absolutely for the best considering what he was going through at the time.
"I would have gotten my ass kicked in that fight," he said flatly. "That training camp was one of the worst training camps I've ever had in my life. I would have been embarrassed because I would have fought like garbage. I was fat, I was out of shape; my training camp sucked, and the people around me sucked."
"I thank god that things happened the way they did; that I was so deathly stricken with sickness that Joe Silva came to my room and knew that I couldn't fight, and accepted that and gave me another fight a couple months later. He knew I was f***ed, and I'm glad I didn't have to fight because everything sucked, and I was fighting off pure heart before the fight even started."
In addition to his role as a professional fighter, Rothwell is also the kickboxing coach at his namesake gym in Kenosha, Wis. It's a role he takes great pride in, but a role for which he feels some don't see him as qualified. However, Rothwell vehemently disagrees with that notion, pointing to his wealth of experience in the sport - as well as the years he spent with the Miletich Fighting System as a sparring partner with then-UFC Heavyweight Champion Tim Sylvia - as his credentials.
"People go, 'why is this guy a striking coach, or doing this or doing that?'" he began. "Well listen to this: not only have I been doing this for 15 years, and have 40 professional fights to my name - which gives me a little bit to say I know what I'm doing inside the ring, unlike coaches who have never been in the ring - on top of all that, I spent six years sparring every Monday and Wednesday with the UFC heavyweight Champion at 6'8", 300 lbs., he's bigger than me. Six years I spent developing my craft; blood, sweat, and tears is why I teach what I teach now, because I earned it and I paid my dues, and nobody can take that away from me."
Rothwell will return to the Octagon on August 4 in Los Angeles. Until then, he can be found at Rothwell MMA/LCCT BJJ at 7600 75th Street #107, Kenosha, WI. Additionally, he wanted to leave fans with one final message: "All the support's appreciated. I love the fans and they're what made me who I am."
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Jamie Penick, editor-in-chief
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