(Photo courtesy of wicombatsports.com.)
Much to our dismay, Ben Rothwell says he won’t be rocking an Extenze sponsorship for his bout with Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic at UFC 110 this weekend. But that’s not the only thing that Rothwell has changed as he hopes for a better outcome in his second UFC fight. From his preparation to his overall mental state, everything about this time out looks to be different for Rothwell, and he’s hoping the result will bear that out.
You changed up your training some for this fight. What did you do differently and why did you decide to do it?
I moved my training full-time to Wisconsin, where Duke Roufus is my coach. Instead of only getting him part of the time, now he’s got full control over everything. It’s definitely for the best. There’s a lot of good energy here. I’m not trying to be negative, but the past couple of years that good energy wasn’t there for me. I wasn’t as passionate about training. It was a job and I was doing it because I had to, not because I wanted to. But when I came back here I was working harder and having more fun. That’s what you need. I’m just trying to keep getting better.
What made the difference between training one place and it being work, and training somewhere else and it being fun?
I honestly can’t say exactly what it was, but I know my last few fights showed what I was going through. I was really disappointed with those performances because I know I’m better than that, but they showed what I was dealing with. It made me want to come out in this fight and show what I can do, show that I’m better than that. I know that the training has been there for this fight. There’s not anything more that I could have done to get ready for this fight.
Training with Duke Roufus, I imagine you’ve been working a lot with Pat Barry to get ready for a good kickboxer like Cro Cop.
Of course. It’s been very important. It’s my opinion that Pat’s one of the best kickboxers there is, whether it’s K-1 or wherever. Now he’s made the transition to MMA and he’s constantly getting better everywhere, so he’s a great guy to have on my side. We make each other better.
Are you expecting this fight to basically be a kickboxing match with MMA gloves on?
[Prolonged silence] Sure.
Okay, let me put it another way. Would you like the fight to go that way?
Honestly, I’m trying to say as little as possible about what I want to do or how I think the fight’s going to go. I think I did too much of that the last two times and it kind of blew up in my face. It was too much talking and not enough action. I just need to focus on the fight and see how it goes down on fight night without talking about it too much.
What’s it like for you now to face a guy like Cro Cop, who you used to watch back when he was in Pride? Does it still seem special to fight him, even if he’s probably close to the end of his career?
That guy, when you’re training hard and killing yourself in the gym, you know that he’s the reason why. Guys like him, Nogueira, the other guys who I look up to, that’s where I always put myself. That’s where I wanted to be, and that’s why I trained hard all these years. It’s because of those guys. To me, he’s still that guy. When you have someone who gets told that he doesn’t have it anymore, that he’s done, and then he takes a fight in the UFC anyway? To me, that’s saying something. He’s coming to fight. I can’t make any mistakes and I can’t take him lightly. He’s for real, and I better be too.
People always talk about the Octagon jitters their first time in the UFC. Do you think that contributed to your loss to Cain Velasquez?
I’m not sure. I was all smiling before the fight, talking positive, and then I got in there and, well, look what happened. Cain started out trying to fight on the feet and as soon as he saw that wasn’t going to work he made the adjustment quickly. He started hitting his takedowns and that was the difference. I didn’t adjust. Right from the get-go I came out flat-footed and not ready to go. Maybe it was being in the UFC. Maybe it was the year layoff. I don’t know. At this level, you can’t be off at all. You have to have everything working right for you.
What was going through your mind after the fight when you were back in the locker room?
I guess I was visualizing smashing myself in the head. Not that I seriously wanted to hurt myself, but I was really upset with myself. I had performed so poorly that I let the ref take a fight away from me. Regardless if I feel it was stopped prematurely or not, I should never have been in the position for that to happen. I’m a more dominating fighter than that. I came out slow, and you can’t do that with a guy like Cain. There’s no feeling out process. He comes right at you. But as far as what I felt in the locker room, I don’t know. Sometimes guys can accept losses. They feel the other guy was better and they just take it. But I was just really upset with myself because I didn’t feel that was the case. I know I can fight better.
Did you ever step back and think, here I am fighting high-level guys like Arlovski and Velasquez, and soon Cro Cop, and it’s a completely different ball game now?
Yeah, I fought two of them and didn’t win. That’s what I thought about. Something’s wrong when that happens. That’s what went through my mind. The goal was never just to get here and fight these guys, it was to beat them. I know I’m good enough and my training partners all know it because they see it on a daily basis, so it’s just disappointing when you don’t do it. It happened twice already. If it happens a third time it will be due to my own stupidity, so that’s why I made the changes I did.
When you watch tape on Cro Cop now to prepare for him, what do you look at? Is it worth watching his old Pride fights, or do you just focus on the more recent fights?
I try to watch everything. Even stuff in the past, that’s stuff he’s capable of doing. And the recent fights, I try to take into account who he’s fighting. People talk about his fight with Dos Santos, but they didn’t realize how good Dos Santos is. It’s not like just because Cro Cop lost to him you’re going to go in there and do whatever. The way he beat Gilbert Yvel tells you how tough he is. Cro Cop may have had some rough fights, but he’s been fighting all tough guys.
Granted, he’s been losing to tough guys, but he hasn’t really looked good, even in victory, for quite a while. Do you think you need to beat a really good version of Cro Cop in order to silence some of your critics who might not think you belong in the UFC?
I really think that’s going to depend more on how I do in the fight. If I beat him people will probably say, ‘Oh, Cro Cop’s washed up.’ But if he wins it will be, ‘Oh, it’s the Cro Cop of old.’ I just have to focus on what I do and not worry about any of that. Everything else will figure itself out. If I go out there and give people what they want to see, fight my heart out, it will turn out okay. There’s nothing worse than going out there, winning a fight, and having the UFC want to cut you anyway because it was so boring. That’s my thing is, I want to put on a show, regardless of the opponent.
I know you’re a real perfectionist and you’re often very critical of yourself. Are you happy with the quality of your stand-up skills at this point?
No, absolutely not. Especially when you have a coach like Duke Roufus. People think it’s just punching and kicking, but he shows you how much technique goes into just the jab. If you don’t think there’s just as much technique to striking as there is to jiu-jitsu, then you’ve never really had someone show you. There’s so much I need to get better at. I feel like as soon as I get better at something, then I realize I need to get better at the other things.
I am absolutely not satisfied with any part of my game. I’ve been doing this for ten years and I almost feel embarrassed about that sometimes. Like, really? I’ve been doing this for ten years and I’m not any better than this? I didn’t just go out and smash Cain Velasquez? But it’s a lot mental too. Mental blocks can really hold you back. There’s just so much to learn in this sport. That’s what I love about it. The day that I think I’ve got it all figured out is the day I need to retire. There’s just too much to learn and improve on.
I can understand the desire to always be improving, but how do you keep from getting too negative and beating up on yourself about things?
I guess my future performances are going to be the answer. It’s a balance between two extremes. You have to feel good about your abilities and be confident in what you can do, but at the same time never be satisfied. Otherwise you stop learning and improving. Even the things I’m good at I could be better at. Like Duke says to me sometimes, a guy like me who’s been doing this for so long, it’s tough to be open-minded at times. Some guys get to where they’re not coachable anymore. They stop learning and it’s their loss. They’re going to pay for that. It drives me crazy to think about, so I’m always trying to make sure I’m improving.