There’s no question that 2016 has proven to be quite the rollercoaster ride for UFC heavyweight contender Ben Rothwell. Unfortunately, “Big Ben” will be forced to spend the remainder of the year healing up from a knee injury that scuttled his UFC 203 co-main event showdown against former champion Fabricio Werdum back in September.
The 35-year-old veteran kicked off the year in outstanding fashion with a huge win at UFC on FOX 18. Rothwell saw his stock rise significantly when he defeated former champion Josh Barnett in New Jersey. A submission triumph against “The Warmaster” was a major accomplishment and the gogo choke finish allowed Rothwell to extend his win streak to four and garner a Performance of the Night bonus.
However, since that high point in late January against Barnett, there’s been a definite reversal of fortune for Rothwell. His next assignment was a pivotal clash against former titlist Junior dos Santos at Fight Night 84 in Croatia. Rothwell would see his triumphant ways come to an end in Zagreb when he dropped a lopsided unanimous decision in that April clash. The Wisconsin native had been banking that a victory against “Cigano” would vault him squarely into the title conversation, but instead, the result knocked him a couple pegs down the ladder.
The scheduled bout against Werdum seemed like a terrific bounce-back opportunity for the No. 5-ranked Rothwell until the injury bug ensured that he would spend the rest of 2016 on the shelf. “Vai Cavalo” would go on to defeat late-replacement Travis Browne on the Sept. 10 card in Cleveland and is now scheduled to face Cain Velasquez in a rematch of ex-champions at UFC 207.
Rothwell has been facing the division’s best for the past several years and is a proven finisher with 33 of his 36 career victories coming by knockout or submission. He’s compiled a 6-4 UFC record, including an impressive knockout victory over recent title challenger Alistair Overeem. Rothwell has also squared off against the likes of Velasquez and Mark Hunt during his Octagon tenure.
”Big Ben” certainly has the skills to re-establish himself as a key player within the heavyweight landscape upon his return. He’ll undoubtedly continue to be a keen observer when it comes to the goings-on in the division while he’s on the sidelines.
It’ll be interesting to see what matchmakers have in store for Rothwell once he’s green-lighted to compete again. With Rothwell presently targeting an Octagon return in the first quarter of 2017, here are some of the top options to consider for his next UFC appearance.
The towering 7-footer has been able to solidify his top-15 standing by recording three wins in his last four appearances. The talented 28-year-old Dutch competitor has recorded back-to-back triumphs and is coming off a submission victory over Daniel Omielanczuk at UFC 204. Struve seems to finally be putting it all together and would provide a solid challenge for Rothwell’s return. “Skyscraper,” much like Rothwell, isn’t one to rely on the judges’ scorecards to determine his fate as he’s produced 25 finishes in his 28 career wins.
The No. 12-ranked Struve has faced many of the division’s top fighters during his lengthy 18-fight Octagon tenure and owns a knockout win over current champion Stipe Miocic. There’s no question that his chin would definitely be tested by the hard-hitting Rothwell, as Struve has been knocked out six times in his career. This seems an appropriate type of test for Rothwell after spending a significant amount of time on the shelf. At the same time, it would provide Struve with the type of challenge that he needs at this stage of his career.
The 31-year-old Lewis has made a name for himself in the division with his impressive finishing abilities. “The Black Beast” is currently holding down a No. 10 ranking and has been rewarded with a main event assignment at UFC Fight Night 102 against Shamil Abdurakhimov. If Lewis is able to extend his current win streak to five in Albany, New York, on Dec. 9, and emerge unscathed, he’d seem like a solid opponent to consider for Rothwell’s return bout. Lewis is one of those competitors who’s willing to take on all comers and likes to stay busy. He’s also quite savvy on the social media front which would make for a fun build-up to the fight.
The Louisiana native has immense power with 14 of his 16 career victories coming via knockout. On the flip side, Lewis has been knocked out in his only two UFC setbacks. Lewis vs. Rothwell would be a heavyweight clash that would be bound to guarantee fireworks and would set the winner up for some major opportunities down the road.
Arlovski is a former UFC champion who was seemingly within striking distance of another title shot in his second stint with the organization until hitting a rough three-fight stretch. While his stock has definitely dropped and his positive momentum has evaporated, those defeats came against elite competition in the forms of Miocic, Overeem and most recently Barnett. “The Pit Bull” still holds down a No. 8 ranking and would seemingly be one of the most attractive options to consider for Rothwell’s return.
Arlovski owns a previous knockout win over “Big Ben” dating back to a 2008 clash in Affliction. The revenge angle for Rothwell and the opportunity to make his comeback against a big-name opponent would make this a solid fit. Arlovski’s punching power and at times suspect chin would likely make for a potential firefight against the dangerous and well-rounded Rothwell.
Fabricio Werdum-Cain Velasquez II loser
Werdum and Velasquez will square off again on Dec. 30 in Las Vegas, and the loser of that contest would definitely seem like the top option for Rothwell in his return bout. The only issue that could prevent it from happening would be the matter of timing. It would all depend on when “Big Ben” was ready to go and just how quickly either Werdum or Velasquez would be willing to get back to business in what would be a rebound scenario. Considering matchmakers already attempted to make a Werdum vs. Rothwell bout happen, it would definitely be worth revisiting if the Brazilian veteran should falter against the former two-time champion.
If Velasquez fails to flip the script against Werdum in their second encounter, he would be the marquee name that Rothwell is on the hunt for. Rothwell was knocked out by the formidable American Kickboxing Academy standout back in 2009 at UFC 104 and would likely relish an opportunity to try and redeem himself.