(Image courtesy of Fight Magazine.)
After nearly ten years in the fight business, moving from one small organization to another, Ben Rothwell will finally make his UFC debut next Saturday night at UFC 104 in Los Angeles. There he meets highly-touted AKA fighter and former All-American wrestler Cain Velasquez. Talking with Rothwell for this week’s SI.com column on the heavyweight clash, he says he has some surprises in store for the people who are still basing their opinions of him off the Andrei Arlvoski fight, and if Velasquez found himself in a little bit of trouble against Cheick Kongo, he’s really in for it on October 24.
You were supposed to make your UFC debut against Chase Gormley, who most people had probably never heard of. Instead you get Cain Velasquez. That’s a much bigger first fight. What do you think of Cain?
BR: He seems like a hard-nosed guy. He’s got the wrestling background. He’s got a lot of hype behind him and he’s feeling good right now. He’s had everything go his way. But I’m going to hit him and make him uncomfortable and we’ll see how he does when things don’t go his way. I’m going to be the guy that can actually stop takedowns, the guy who can handle him on the ground, and the guy who’s going to hit him harder than he’s ever been hit before. These are all things that are different for him.
Do you think he’s yet to face anyone with a good enough takedown defense to really test him?
O’Brien would have been the one with the best chance, but if you watch the fight, he fought such a stupid fight. He basically threw himself on the ground. Cain does move well and has good top control, but all the other guys were worthless as far as that goes. I mean, Kongo puts his knees together to try and stop a takedown. So, yeah, he hasn’t faced many guys who can give him that kind of a challenge as far as that goes.
Watching the few moments he spent on the feet with Kongo where he almost got himself in trouble a couple of times, does that make you think that the key to winning this is stopping the takedown and making him trade with you?
It’s not even that. He says he doesn’t know what happened. I do. He got hit. He got hit by a 230-pound guy going backwards. He’s really not going to know what happened when I hit him. And I am going to hit him. He’s going to try and move around and try some things, but I’m going to get a piece of him. Then I’ll really rewrite all that stuff for him.
Do you think he’ll look for the takedown right away then?
I don’t know. He’s probably at the point where he’s got confidence on the feet. He probably thinks he did well against Kongo and that he can stand with me. He’s watching film on me so he thinks he knows who he’s fighting, but he doesn’t. He could think that he wants to mix it up on the feet, or the referee could say ‘Fight!’ and all that could go out the window. He could just start shooting right away. It doesn’t matter to me. My gameplan doesn’t change.
Training-wise, what have you done to prepare specifically for him?
The biggest thing was I brought in Mike Whitehead, who wrestled the same division as Cain. He’s a really good wrestler and he’s bigger than Cain and he’s helped me with a lot of things. I’ve also got good guys like Steve Rusk, who most people don’t know, but he threw guys like Mark Coleman and Matt Lindland. I’ve got Ryan McGivern who mimics the speed and pace. He was an Iowa wrestler. Of course, Mike [Ciesnolevicz] has an excellent ground game and a better stand-up game than Cain, too.
Now that you’re a UFC employee, are you finding that life is a little different?
Of course. Tons of interviews, tons of phone calls. The goal of my career was to get to the UFC, but not just get there – dominate there and finish my career there. The things I’ve done so far are not real accomplishments. To me there’s only one accomplishment, and that’s the belt. This is the chance I’ve been waiting for. It’s my chance to really let my wings unfold. People are going to see an entirely different Ben Rothwell. I want to get the belt and make that a starting point. I really haven’t shown the best that I’ve got. Even with my physical appearance, I’m still getting better.
I heard that you’re supposed to have this completely different physique now. What are we talking about here, six-pack abs?
Not yet, but I’m getting close. I think my second UFC fight I’ll have some abs. I think I’m going to lose the fat heavyweight look. I’m definitely not to where I want, but I have a more powerful looking appearance now.
Speaking of the fat heavyweight look, I imagine you’ve been watching your old friend Roy Nelson on “The Ultimate Fighter” this season.
[Laughs] He rides the fat heavyweight train with pride. I think a lot of fans can relate to him because of the way he looks. He trains hard, but he eats like crap. If he wants to do that, that’s fine. I respect the sport so much, I want to be in the best shape I can. I didn’t need drugs or anything to do that. I just needed to eat clean, and this is the most consistent I’ve ever been with that. Roy wants to go the other route, that’s him.
What did you think of his fight with Kimbo Slice?
I thought he would fight a little better, actually. I think he’s the ringer on the show, obviously. He’s more experienced and has fought tougher guys. He should be the favorite. But Kimbo hung in there and did better than I thought. That’s not a knock on Kimbo. He just isn’t at that level yet, but he gave Roy a little more trouble than I thought he would.
Watching the commercials for UFC 104, all we see of you is footage from the Arlvoski fight, which obviously wasn’t your best night. Does it bother you to have to see that over and over again when the UFC tries to advertise your first fight in the Octagon?
No, I don’t care. It’s got good shots of me coming down the ramp [laughs], hitting him a couple times, stuff like that. You know how I feel about the fight. I didn’t fight my best fight at all. I fought probably the best Andrei Arlovski we’ve ever seen. Now, recently he’s kind of fallen apart. But I think it showed my toughness. I didn’t show what I could really do, though.
Do you think the pressure of your first UFC fight will be similar to the pressure of the Arlovski fight?
No, I don’t put Cain at Andrei’s level. With Andrei, I tried to say it wasn’t that big a fight and there wasn’t pressure, but my body knew how big it was. It was kind of like when GSP fought Matt Hughes and he gave him too much respect. That’s what happened with me and Andrei. I gave him too much respect.
But I don’t put Cain on his level at all. I don’t feel any more pressure than when I fought on an Adrenaline show. It’s like, he’s good? Fine, I’m good too. I feel a lot better about how I’ll perform.
I think it’s going to be a great fight. It’s going to tell me a lot. I’ll get to see what both guys have got. It will be interesting to see how they’ll act if either of them take a shot, or if it goes into the third round, how they’ll act. They’re both big bastards. It’s a toss-up. It’s totally fifty-fifty. I think some people underestimate Carwin and they think Lesnar is going to kill him. I don’t think that.
I was looking at the betting odds recently and I was surprised. You’re more than a 2-1 underdog in most places.
The way I look at it, I’m going to make some gamblers some money. He’s got a lot of hype behind him and that’s why he’s the favorite. I welcome that. I have a chance to make all the gamblers happy.