A few years ago, you probably would have been crazy to think Ben Rothwell could be challenging for the UFC heavyweight belt. That may just become a reality shortly when Rothwell takes on former UFC heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos on April 10th with the winner likely to be given a shot at the title.
That’s the beauty of MMA. Unlike other sports where you generally peak at 28, fighting is a different beast. It’s the thinking man’s (and woman’s) game. As fighters get older, they learn to be more effective and efficient. We’re seeing this now with Ben Rothwell.
At 34, the man affectionately known as “Big Ben” is currently riding a four-fight win streak in the UFC and coming off his most eye catching performance against the dangerous veteran, Josh Barnett. While Barnett maybe in the twilight of his career, he’s a still a very dangerous, skilful and intelligent fighter. What’s most impressive is the manner of Rothwell’s victory, a submission win courtesy of a gogó choke. Barnett had never been submitted in a professional MMA bout up until that fight.
In only a few short years, Rothwell has gone from pretender to contender. In my opinion, he’s the dark horse of the heavyweight division. He doesn’t have the crisp technical boxing of Dos Santos, the powerful kicks of Overeem, the slick submission game of Werdum or even the wrestling and work ethic of a Velasquez or Miocic.
So what makes him such a dangerous proposition and potential challenger for the title?
1. Rothwell is a very heavy handed heavyweight (although most are). He throws punches generally at close range from unusual angles which create openings on his opponents.
2. Rothwell’s conditioning has improved considerably and he is able to take significant damage from his opponents. In the heavyweight division, this is a huge advantage as most fighters have the potential to knock out their opponent with one punch.
3. Rothwell’s submission game has arrived. While Rothwell has recorded many submission victories in his MMA career, he hadn’t recorded one in the UFC until mid-2015 against Matt Mitrione. He now has two submission wins in a row courtesy of what’s fast becoming his go-to submission, the brutal gogó choke.
You might be asking yourself, where has this run come from?
There are a lot of factors as to why fighter’s fortunes can change inside the octagon. It could be because of new coaches, different surroundings, or in the case of Rothwell, starting up his own mixed martial arts gym.
Rothwell and his wife Jennifer opened up Rothwell Mixed Martial Arts in 2011 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. It’s been mentioned before that this has played a large part in his turnaround inside the octagon, a theory I tend to agree with. Rothwell teaches students daily on the basics and fundamentals of MMA and he’s required to adapt his training to cater for people of all ages and skill levels. He’s now become a student of the game.
Rothwell is part of (in my opinion) the most competitive heavyweight division in the history of the UFC. The top six ranked fighters (Werdum, Velasquez, Miocic, Overeem, Rothwell and Dos Santos) are all world class and capable of holding the belt. I don’t think the UFC (or any other MMA promotion) has ever boasted this many top heavyweights at one time.
As previously mentioned, Rothwell will face Junior Dos Santos on April 10th with the winner likely to get a shot at the heavyweight title. I’ve written off “Big Ben” more than once in his career, although now I’ve learnt my lesson. Rothwell is a serious contender for the heavyweight title. Don’t be surprised if we see Dana White wrapping that gold belt around his waist in the not-so-distant future.