Ben Rothwell: Enduring, Persevering, And Believing
Written by Faiz Khan
The first time I saw “Big” Ben Rothwell (36-9 MMA, 6-3 UFC) fight was against an eager 6-0 future two-time UFC Heavyweight Champion, Cain Velasquez.
I had never heard of Ben Rothwell at that point, however the Kenosha, Wisconsin native had amassed a record of 30-6 before entering his UFC debut. Admittedly, I wasn’t educated on Velasquez at the time, but his connection with Arizona State University made me a bit bias before the fight at the time with myself being a Sun Devil as well. Go Devils! Recently I rewatched the fight, before Rothwell faced Barnett . As I watched, much more educated on both fighters now, I have found new perspective. This new perspective is undoubtedly due to Rothwell’s recent outings inside the octagon. Nevertheless, I saw an inexperienced wrestler against a decorated NCAA Division 1 wrestler. We all know the pedigree that Cain Velasquez has accumulated over the years since his fight with Rothwell and there’s no doubt that Velasquez was the better fighter at that time. However, what I failed to see previously is that Steve Mazzagatti was the referee and Rothwell was down, but not out. Although he was getting repeatedly punched against the cage near the end without properly defending himself, I do believe he was on his way to getting out of the awkward position he found himself in. Still, up until that point, the fight was clearly being dominated by a relentless Velasquez. What it did show me was that Ben Rothwell is one tough motherfucker.
3 Years and Counting…
In his first four fights in the UFC, Rothwell went 2-2 entering his fight with UFC veteran Gabriel Gonzaga. Gonzaga mainly tried to wrestle Rothwell and utilize his BJJ with the first round ending somewhat even. In the second round, Rothwell ate a straight shot and looked to slip bracing for the entering Gonzaga and, for lack of better words, “fell” into a standing arm-in guillotine. Eventually, Gonzaga tightened it and jumped guard, forcing Rothwell to the mat inside the guillotine and tapping to the choke. After this fight, “Big” Ben fell to 2-3 inside the octagon and left in the mix of the heavyweight division.
Rothwell’s loss to Gonzaga came almost 3 years ago to date exactly in January 2013 to his fight against Josh Barnett. Since then, Rothwell has gone on to win four straight with four straight finishes. So when did the switch turn on for Ben Rothwell?
For me, all I am is just a fan. I only get to see the shell of these fighters when they go to war for fifteen or twenty-five minutes while I watch in admiration on my television screen. So my initial analysis of when Ben Rothwell’s switch flipped into a title contender is against Brandon Vera. Not because it was his first of the four fight win streak, but the way the fight ended. We saw a side of Ben Rothwell people had never seen before, not only as a fighter, but a glimpse of his personality. I remember almost half way through the 3rd Round against Vera, Rothwell started moving erratically as if to confuse or distract his opponent. The unorthodox movement, catalyzed either by his corner calling for movement or his own frustration with his corner’s relentless instructions for movement, was almost comical. Mike Goldberg compared it to Clay Guida with Joe Rogan adding he looked like a “Giant” Clay Guida. However, something clicked and Rothell TKO’d Vera shortly after,
but what we saw was a goofy and relatable Ben Rothwell that embraced the underdog spirit and was winning me over. I slowly began to admire and genuinely enjoy Ben Rothwell.
However, it wasn’t until recently that I realized I was completely wrong in my analysis. Before UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Bader, we were given a peek into the journey of the main card headliners that led them to this point in Road To The Octagon. This is where I learned about Ben Rothwell; father, husband, son, coach, and fighter. More than that, what Ben has endured in his life and the way he lives his life is what I believe has brought out the buried potential we have seen in him lately.
Now, Rothwell’s life story is an intense and emotional one. Words don’t quite seem to do it justice and airing out his life’s tragedies doesn’t quite sit right. Still, it needs to be told because his story deserves to be told. When I say it deserves to be told, I don’t mean it for purposes to shed light on someone’s personal struggles for my own gain. I mean that Ben deserves his story to be told because he doesn’t deserve to carry all that weight by himself.
Perseverance Before Glory
Rothwell was six years old when he was struck with Spinal Meningitis. It took over Ben, placing him in a coma for a short time and temporarily blinding him. Additionally, the disease caused Ben, a previously active child, to excessively gain weight leading to childhood bullying, fighting, and a constant search for where he fit in. At seventeen, “Big” Ben found his place. He began training in Mixed Martial Arts. For the first time in a long time, Ben felt like he belonged. Then, a car accident later that same year would test him again. Rothwell was driving home with a friend. Nearly home, Rothwell turned a corner when a truck slammed into his car at an extremely high speed sending the car with enough force it took down a tree.¹ Rothwell and his friend were left for dead as they were victim to a hit-and-run as well as a drunk driver. Rothwell was battered and broken, but survived. His friend was not as fortunate, eventually succumbing to his injuries and dying two weeks later. Eventually, the culprits were caught, but the damage was done. An event like this is life changing. At 17, Ben had a choice to make. Let this break him or persevere. And he did. He did not break. It was who he was. Before he was a fighter, there was a fighter all along, underneath his skin and bones. It was his in his soul and you cannot take a man’s soul from him willingly.
Call It Destiny
Fast forward 10 years, Rothwell entered the UFC as he always believed he would. After Vera, Rothwell faced Alistair Overeem, the former Strikforce Heavyweight, Dream Heavyweight, and K-1 World Grand Prix Champion. On paper, the striking accolades tilt in favor of Overeem, but everyone knows in MMA, the paper don’t matter. Especially in the Heavyweight division, where one shot can close the show. Another simple thing to remember. Always respect your opponent. Rothwell was, as Jon Anik called it, a massive underdog against the Dutch kick boxer. Nothing new to the big man. However, around 2:45 left in the 1st round, Rothwell countered a left hook by Overeem with a right hook of his own that landed on the side of Overeem’s head sending him rocked to the canvas like a rug was pulled out beneath him. Rothwell pounced and fed Overeem a flurry of punches knocking him out cold. Rothwell capped it off with a dance that is worth watching.
See: Rothwell knocks out Overeem and his victory dance.
You can’t tell me this guy isn’t worth watching, solely to see what he will do when he wins. The added benefit is watching him destroy his opponent beforehand. And when he does win, it is beautiful to watch. His next fight was against TUF alum, Matt Mitrione. A formidable opponent with some big wins, but nowhere near Rothwell’s experience. On the feet majority of the 1st round, Matt Mitrione shot in for a takedown, but was reversed by the strong Ben Rothwell. Without hesitation, Rothwell sank in his, now famous, “Go-Go” Choke. It was academic. Mitrione frantically tapped to the unusual submission and Rothwell went home with his 3rd finish in a row. All he does is believe. He believes in himself and he exudes confidence, which makes him able to fight without distractions. He doesn’t think about things, he just lets his gift takeover. Just as he did against his next opponent. Josh Barnett is one of the best heavyweights to ever compete in MMA. He is a veteran of the sport and is known for his extraordinary grappling prowess. That’s when it was shocking when Rothwell slapped on his signature “Go-Go” choke, forcing the veteran to tap. Except, not to the Kenosha, Wisconsin native. He believes it is his destiny to be the best and it is damn hard to deny it.
He has taught me so much about life and what a gift it really can be. He looked at these events and chose to carry on as he always had. He is a humble and genuine human being. A professional we can all look up to. He’s found his support in his wife and found love in teaching classes at his gym in Kenosha. Now he sits at the top of the UFC Heavyweight Division with a fight against former champion Junior Dos Santos. An odd choice of opponent considering he was just beat by Alistair Overeem, whom Rothwell knocked out in the 1st round. However, Rothwell takes all comers. He doesn’t back down. He just believes. He believes he was destined to be the best fighter in the world. Coming off his win against Barnett, his second “Go-Go” choke in a row, Rothwell is more confident than ever before. He doesn’t care who is in his way and he’s ready to scorch fucking earth.
¹Flynn, Daniel J. “Left for Dead by Drunk Driver, Kenosha’s Comeback Kid Courts UFC Title Fight.” Breitbart.com. Breitbart, 15 Sept. 2014. Web. Jan. 2016. <http://www.breitbart.com/sports/2014/09/15/left-for-dead-by-drunk-driver-ben-rothwell/>.