The fight game is, for lack of a better term, weird.
Weird because matchmaking and the ranking system are all done through a subjective process. It is more of an art than an exact science. There are constantly debates on which fighter deserves what and who should be ranked where. But the sport’s nature is also driven by the different personalities, which encompass it. You have your outspoken alphas — the Ronda Rouseys and Conor McGregors — and the humble workmen — the Georges St-Pierres and Demetrious Johnsons.
The fighter’s persona plays a monumental role in fight promotion and it’s become the biggest marketing tool. The heavyweight division has been criticized for its lack of depth talent-wise, but what it has is a rich collection of interesting figures — none more than “Big” Ben Rothwell.
Rothwell doesn’t possess Werdum’s face-contorting skills or bilingual fluency. He doesn’t have Hunt’s charming bluntness both in his words and fists. He doesn’t have Velazquez’s quiet charisma and endearing Spanglish. And his roundish physique, while a more relatable shape to most MMA fans, is not exactly the template used when drawing comic book superheroes not unlike that of an Overeem or dos Santos. What Rothwell has is far more fascinating: a character of depth layered with colorful idiosyncrasies.
Rothwell returned to his home state of Wisconsin at UFC 164, up against Brandon Vera making his return to the heavyweight division. Vera, the lighter fighter tags him in and out using his quickness to get out of Ben’s retaliation. The third round starts and the hometown hero stalks Vera and wobbles his body in what Mike Goldberg aptly compared to Clay Guida – “a very big Clay Guida” Joe Rogan would add. The crowd cheered as the behemoth shook his body in such unorthodox fashion it baffled Vera and distracted him long enough for Rothwell to hit him with a few shots that sent him back to the cage. Rothwell would quickly corner him and unload a fury of unanswered shots, dropping Vera and quickly prompting referee Herb Dean to stop the fight. Right after, Rothwell would give an impassioned speech about showing what he could really do, highlighting an array of talent he possesses.
Rothwell is a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and had a brief stint in kickboxing. The Kenosha native grew up through many personal struggles and often got into fights in his high school years. When he turned 17, he realized fighting was his calling decided to pursue it by enrolling in self-defense. In 2011, Rothwell, now a changed man, has shaped his love for fighting to martial arts and has opened his own gym, Rothwell MMA, to share his passion for martial arts to help others improve themselves.
Rothwell returned to the Octagon at UFC Fight Night 50 after serving a UFC-mandated suspension for testing positive for elevated testosterone. He was served as the proverbial “sacrificial lamb” to former Strikeforce champion, Alistair Overeem. Rothwell was a 3-1 underdog during fight time and the fight started exactly as the MMA world expected: The much more technical and physically gifted Overeem would unload kicks at Rothwell trying his best to slow the big man down. But the tough Rothwell wouldn’t be deterred, catching Overeem with an uppercut before knocking him down and finishing the fight. And just like that, Rothwell scored arguably the biggest win of his UFC career, establishing himself as a force in the division. Though his best performance came after the knockout as he skipped around in irregular fashion in what could only be described as an attempt to dance.
Rothwell’s toughness in the Octagon is a byproduct of the sturdiness of his inner persona. As a child, Rothwell suffered with spinal meningitis, which made him almost obese. He was in a coma and had temporary blindness. Going back to his early MMA career, he and a friend were involved in a car accident with a drunk driver. Rothwell suffered significant head injuries and broken ribs but his friend, 19 years old, died two weeks later. Rothwell said he would grow as a person and be shaped by the traumatic incident to have a purpose in MMA competition.
On the heels of his biggest win in the UFC, Rothwell co-main evented with Matt Mitrione again as an underdog at UFC Fight Night 68. The pundits felt Mitrione was again the superior athlete and he had a speed and technique advantage. And just like the Vera and Overeem fights, Mitrione would find early success in tagging Rothwell repeatedly. Though “Meathead” may have noticed his best shots were not fazing Rothwell and in act of desperation, shot for his first ever takedown attempt. Rothwell would capitalize on this poor judgment and lock in a gogo choke, seizing Mitrione’s next and forcing a quick tap to abruptly end the fight. For a second consecutive fight, Rothwell stunned the MMA world. But “Big” Ben wasn’t done yet. In what would go down as one of the most memorable (or infamous) post-fight interviews, Rothwell would cut a pro-wrestling style promo much to the chagrin of MMA fans (and Jon Anik) everywhere.
“Whether you loved it or hated it, the important thing is I made you listen,” Rothwell said after the fight.
“Big” Ben has everyone’s attention. And while his scheduled fight with Stipe Miocic for UFC Fight Night 76 in Dublin, Ireland fell through due to Miocic’s injury, Rothwell will still remain entrenched in the heavyweight division’s title picture always ready to further leave an impression one bizarre way after another.