Ben Rothwell sports an MMA record of (29-5) according to Sherdog and currently fights out of the Miletich Fighting Systems in Iowa. He’s currently riding a thirteen fight win streak that dates back over two years including an undefeated run in the IFL where he won 11 straight fights and rose to stardom to became one of the organizations most talented and recognizable stars. Most recently, he defeated former UFC Heavyweight Champion, Ricco Rodriguez at the IFL 2007 team championships in September via unanimous decision. He then left the organization last year at the expense of the IFL’s first-ever Grand Prix and a chance to become its champion to find greener pastures in the free agent market. Earlier this year, Rothwell signed a non-exclusive contract to fight in the newly founded Affliction and Adrenaline MMA organizations, both of which will hold their first shows this summer.
Rothwell is going to be a part of history on July 19th when he fights on a blockbuster card that is deeper in heavyweight talent than the entire UFC heavyweight division. His rumored opponent is none other than Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski, a former UFC Heavyweight Champion. The proposed fight, organization, and card are among the hottest and most discussed topics in MMA right now. I recently caught up with perhaps the greatest MMA fighter ever to come out of Wisconsin last Saturday to discuss with him his upcoming fights in Affliction and Adrenaline, his MMA roots in Wisconsin, and Kimbo Slice.
Wisconsin Combat Sports: Ben, you’re fighting in July on the new Affliction card. There are so many great heavyweights on the card it’s better than the UFC Heavyweight Division. What do you think about the show?
Ben Rothwell: I’m very excited for it. I think it’s a great card just for the fans alone and to compile that many great heavyweights on one card. I think each fight could almost be a main event type fight. It’s what everybody has been waiting for, it’s going to change the rules and I believe take the sport to a new level putting this type of card together. Some people are questioning it, asking, “Is Affliction putting all their eggs in one basket?” Who Cares? Enjoy it, July 19th, why would anyone complain about this, it’s an awesome thing to see and I think it has such a buzz about it and it’s going to be a successful show. We’re putting all the best guys together and letting them go at it. I think your going to see more shows like this and that’s the way it should be. It’s no knock on the UFC, they pioneered it, they kept the sport alive and did their thing, plus they have a lot of great fighters on their cards. But there’s nothing wrong with something different. Affliction put their money where their mouth is and their making it happen. Not only the PPV, but the first five fights are going to be aired on the Fox Sports Network for free to build it up. It’s just great all around and I think it’s going to be a great night.
WCS: About the match-up, you’re going against Andrei Arlovski, a former UFC Heavyweight Champion.
BR: Stop right there. As of right now, it’s still TBA. Andrei has issues with the UFC. He’s under a contract that has a clause where he is under a work release and there is a lot of heavy rumors, although I think it’s fair to say that there is a lot of potential that the fight will happen. That’s what they talked about and want to happen, but the UFC still has a certain amount of control over the situation and if they match, he might stay with the UFC still. But in the next three of four days, I think we’re going to get the official announcement; then we can run wild with it.
WCS: Alright, assuming that you end up fighting Andrei Arlovski, tell me your opinion of him. I mean, he’s an extremely powerful striker although it seems like his last few fights he’s been a bit more timid, however I did not get the chance to see his Jake O’Brien fight, have you noticed that at all?
BR: You know, Andrei’s an incredible athlete. Anytime he’s fighting and he’s not fighting one of my teammates I’m always excited to see him fight because he’s known for his striking and he goes out and most of the time tries to put on an exciting show. It’s seems like when things were going good for him, he was crazy, he was coming out at everyone very aggressively, but when he got knocked out by Tim, everybody seems to have noticed that there was a difference. He got hit and realized that he was human. He might have second-guessed himself in some of his previous fights. It’s not only the striking, I think it’s the wrestling, anytime a guy comes in and brings more than just striking to the game it also changes him. If he knows that he’s going to fight a guy that is only going to strike with him, he’s a lot more confident, because he knows what’s going to happen. Justin Eilers and Paul Buentello were not going to try for a takedown. We knew it, Andrei knew it, and you see a different type of Andrei. But he changes when you have a guy who brings the possibility of a takedown or a guy who can knock him out. He’s just fighting smarter now is what is comes down too. Unfortunately, the beginning period with some of his fights like Werdum or even Pe De Pano, who are more of your ground guys, he was concerned with winning the fight rather just going out and recklessly throwing bombs, possibly making a mistake and losing a fight. So you have to respect that. When you’re at that level, there’s no room for mistakes and winning is all that really matters.
WCS: What kind of game plan are we going to see out of you? Generally, from what I’ve seen in most of your fights, it seems like your biggest assests are from the clinch. You have big knees out of the clinch, good strikes and elbows out of the clinch, you also have some nice head kicks. Lastly, are you afraid of Arlovski’s power at all?
BR: Well, you have to remember that I’ve been training for the last four and a half years with Tim Sylvia. He’s one of the biggest heavyweights and he’s top five in the world. Talk about power, I understand power. I deal with it. I’m thankful to have that confidence and experience and I’ve fought a lot of guys who have that kind of power, where if you make a mistake that could be it. Andrei is no different, he’s the same kind of guy with that power and speed and you just have to watch yourself. It goes both ways, we both possess that kind of power, where if someone connects, someone is going to go down. That’s the game, that’s what I train for. You just have to go out there and keep your head on. I’m the kind of fighter who makes things happen and takes what comes and try to make my opponent make a mistake. I’ve been pretty good about capitalizing on peoples’ mistakes.
WCS: After you severed ties with the IFL, Roy “Big Country” Nelson ended up winning the Grand Prix and the Championship, which most people assume you would have won. He’s also the only one who gave you a decent fight. Now there are rumors that came out yesterday saying that if Kimbo wins his fight tomorrow he gets to fight Roy Nelson. What do you think of that fight?
BR: So you heard if Kimbo wins that he’ll fight Roy Nelson?
WCS: Yes, that’s the rumor.
BR: That’s bad news for Kimbo. Roy and I have our differences and our thoughts on the fight. Whatever, but we had a great fight and it takes two great fighters to have a great fight, so it is what it is. Roy Nelson is obviously a tough guy and I think he’ll put it on Kimbo for sure. Some of the heavyweights are mad because he’s getting so much hype, kind of undeservedly and he’s getting it because of hype and not because of action. He’s fighting James Thompson, who he’s probably going to knock out. The guy was knocked out cold in his last two fights. Kimbo is going to go out and throw some haymakers and probably knock him out too. Roy is a well-rounded heavyweight, has a solid chin and can box himself. Kimbo might have a bad night with that fight. Lucky for Roy to get that fight because it’s going to build him a whole bunch of hype and he’ll steal a lot from Kimbo.
WCS: I also heard that you’re going to be headlining the Adrenaline show in Quad Cities in September/October I think?
BR: September 6th is what is on paper right now, that’s what they’re looking at. It’s going to be in Moline, which is part of the Quad Cities. As far as an opponent, we don’t know. June 14th in Chicago at the Sears Center is the first Adrenaline so obviously the focus right now is on that. After that I think they are going to start working on the Moline card. So I have July 19th for Affliction and September 6th for Adrenaline.
WCS: If I could have my wish, I’d like to see you fight Aleksander Emelianenko on that card, but that’s just me. As far as the Affliction show and your contract, you’re going to be fighting under Affliction and Adrenaline. Are you looking to do more fights with Affliction or fight for any other organizations?
BR: Well, both of my contracts are non-exclusive so I can fight between the two. It’s a cool thing; I can take things as they go. When you’re with an exclusive contract like the UFC there’s no choices, no options, you fight whomever the next guy is they put in front of you. For this I get a little bit more of an opportunity to weigh my options. If there is a dry time and Affliction doesn’t have anything going on, I can go fight for Adrenaline or vice versa. We’ll see how things go; I’m not in a rush. I have two fights to worry about and that’s my main focus right now.
WCS: Alright, getting back to the local area, you’re from Wisconsin and your parents own a restaurant in the Kenosha area. How often do you make it back to the state?
BR: Just about every weekend, sometimes every other. I have a daughter whose five and I come back for her and I like to see my family and stuff. Anytime I represent the area I try to represent Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’ve just had a great response from this part of the state and it’s cool because anytime I fight near by, people come from all over the state and look at me as the Wisconsin guy and they came to support me and that’s cool. The hometown not so much, they don’t understand MMA and they never gave it the respect it now deserves. I mean come on, the sports on CBS live television, obviously something is going on here, but my hometown just doesn’t get it. I’ve kind of turned my back on it for reasons of that sort because of their media and the people there. I love supporting the Quad Cities and I like the rest of the fan base I’ve gotten from the rest of Wisconsin. I always try to go out and represent the cheeseheads and the Midwest all together. I think the Midwest has some of the best and absolute toughest fighters in the sport and the world.
WCS: When you started out your training, you started out here at the Duke Roufus gym before going over to Miletich correct? Was the move due to lack of heavyweight sparring partners here in Wisconsin? Also, whom besides Tim Sylvia and Brad Imes are you training with?
BR: Yeah and Kerry Schall, Brian Vetell, Sherman Pendergarst, and we got different guys who come in and make visits. We have a group of heavyweights, plus the 205ers a lot of times are around 230, so we train together with them. So there is a good group of us. The team overall, we have about 25 name fighters that have skills and we all work and help each other.
I trained with a guy from my hometown first and that just didn’t work out, it was a bad relationship. I came to Duke because he was a world renown kickboxer and Duke overall is just a supercool guy and he was a mentor to me. When I made the move to Iowa it was more about the heavyweights and at the time and Duke was still more heavy into kickboxing and I needed to expand my wrestling and my ground game and I needed some bigger guys to work with so I went to Pat’s, but when I went to Pat’s I also tried to maintain the relationship with Duke. It’s really worked out great for me and Duke’s actually helping me get ready for this next fight. I’ve kept a good relationship with him and Pat together and I like to make trips back to Milwaukee as much as I can to work with him. Duke’s my standup coach, he’s one of the best out there and I believe in him 100%, I love his coaching style. In the IFL people started thinking I was just a kickboxer and that had a lot to do with Duke. I have a lot more skills to show, but when the standup is getting the job done, why go to the ground?
WCS: Alright, well that’s about all I have for you. Good luck against Andrei Arlovski. I think that fight is really going to be the one that is going to put you on the map, it’s the highest profile fight of your career. I want to wish you luck from Wisconsin Combat Sports and our readers. Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans or any of your sponsors?
BR: I just want to let everyone in Wisconsin know that I appreciate the support and I try to represent the Midwest the best I can. I’m really looking forward to these future fights and hopefully some of Wisconsin will take the three hour drive to Moline in September to support us for the Adrenaline show as well.
WCS: Thanks a lot Ben, I appreciate it.