(Photo courtesy of our friends at Fight Magazine)
Ben Rothwell was one of the fighters who was none too pleased with Josh Barnett after his positive steroid test prompted the Affliction: Trilogy cancellation, but despite the missed paycheck he may be better off for it in the end, as his fight with Chase Gormley got picked up for UFC 104. Here Rothwell tells us about the quick turnaround from unemployed fighter to UFC heavyweight, why he takes Barnett’s steroid issues personally, and why he welcomes you to keep basing your judgments about him on his loss to Andrei Arlovski.
When you got the call telling you the Affliction event was cancelled, I imagine you were pretty pissed off. But what was going through your mind right then?
Honestly, pretty pissed off is how a lot of guys felt. But when I heard that the event was cancelled I just put it in my mind right away that I was going to fight for somebody, somewhere. I told myself, don’t get stressed out, even though I was losing money and losing a chance to fight, but I put aside the negative thoughts right away. I got off the phone and I was kind of just blank, because it came out of nowhere, but I knew I had to stay positive. Nothing I could say or do would make the show come back.
I looked at the positive things, how I’d trained really hard and gotten myself in really good shape. People were all raining down on Affliction, and in some of the interviews I gave it looked like I was really mad, but I wasn’t. I was mad at Josh Barnett because, hey, he did test positive. UFC 100 just took place, but this was Affliction III. They did count on their main event and he cost them that. But I just stayed positive and before I knew it we were talking to different people and fielding different offers. Then it dropped off for a whole day with nothing. Finally Monte [Cox] called me and said, “Guess what?” The UFC made us an outstanding offer and it just felt like an accomplishment in itself.
Did it surprise you that they picked up the exact fight between you and Chase Gormley, just lifting it off the Affliction card and putting it on UFC 104?
I guess it is kind of unusual. But they need good heavyweights and my opponent’s undefeated and had a lot of good hype. Nogueira and those guys know him so they must have been telling the UFC good things about him. They think the guy’s really tough. I was a little bit surprised, though. I feel like I’ve paid my dues and I definitely belong there. He doesn’t have anywhere near as many fights as me but a lot of guys are getting opportunities now even without a bunch of fights on their record. It’s going to be a hell of a fight because me and him will have been training for about six months just for each other by the time we finally fight.
Did you talk to Strikeforce before making the deal with the UFC?
We talked to everybody. At one point they asked if I’d fight [Fabricio] Werdum on [August] 15 and I told them absolutely. I’m ready to go. But the deal wasn’t what Monte liked, apparently. It wasn’t just one fight it was for a longer deal, but he obviously knows best because now I’m in the UFC.
Does it feel like all the other stuff – the IFL and Affliction – was just a preamble to your career in the UFC? Is it do-or-die now for you?
It’s not do or die or anything negative, but just that now my wings can finally open up. I know that the best of me has yet to be shown. Now is the time when I need to show it. There’s no holding back and nothing to wait for. Regardless of the opponent, it all matters now. All eyes are on you in the UFC.
With you and your old IFL rival Roy Nelson now both in the UFC, are you expecting a rematch soon?
People have already been talking about it, so it’s not even a matter of what he and I want. The UFC is good at putting on fights that people want to see, so I can’t imagine that it won’t happen eventually. The way I see it, Gormley and Nelson are fights to help get me ready for [Brock] Lesnar. All three have similar styles, each brings something different and obviously Lesnar’s the biggest, but they all could help me get ready for Lesnar and that’s what I’ll have to do eventually anyways.
Wow, we’re already talking about Lesnar? Doesn’t that seem like you’re looking pretty far down the road?
Well, I’m not excited just to be in the UFC. I’m excited to come in there and win a world title. I’m not just happy to be there. I won’t be excited until I’ve won the belt. Make no mistake, I’m coming in here to take care of business.
I assume then that you think you have the skills to succeed against Lesnar where others have failed?
I think people would be interested in the match-up because, size-wise, I’m a bigger heavyweight too. I could cut down on a lot of his advantages, like his size and strength. My experience is an asset for me and my takedown defense is always improving. My stand-up would definitely give him some problems. Even against Mir, who I’ve never thought had fantastic stand-up, though obviously he looked good against Nogueira, but Lesnar wanted no part of the stand-up against Mir. And if he wanted no part of Mir, who’s a 240-pound heavyweight, I know he definitely wouldn’t want to stand with me. My hands and feet will hurt people.
Actually, a year before he really started in MMA, Lesnar came to our camp for two weeks. He watched as I – and I’m not happy about it or bragging about it – but I literally knocked a guy into a concussion during sparring with a head kick. Lesnar just said, ‘Please don’t do that to me.’ He’s not going to forget that. He’s going to know that one hit from me and that could be it.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s got big meathooks. No one wants to get hit by him, either. But at the same time he also hurt himself trying to hit me. He actually pulled the cartilage in his ribs because he threw this big haymaker at me and I avoided it.
Do you think that a lot of casual fans who didn’t follow the IFL are going to look at you and just see the guy who lost to Andrei Arlovski?
I welcome people to keep watching the [Andrei] Arlovski fight. I hope they will. Because I know what was going on and I know that wasn’t me. It’s fine if people don’t believe that, but I know I’m never going to be that guy ever again.
When Affliction was scrambling to find an opponent for Fedor, did they ever come to you?
Obviously, I told them I’d do it. So did a bunch of other guys. Everybody and their brother would fight him because everybody’s mentality is the same: what have you got to lose? If you win, it’s huge. If you lose, it’s no big deal. Everybody wanted to fight him.
I read that after the cancellation you suggested that Josh Barnett should personally compensate all the fighters who lost out on fights because of his positive drug test.
Yeah, some of that got out to the media in a way that I didn’t really intend it to. I wasn’t totally serious, some of that was in jest. Even though a lot of people seemed to agree with me, I wasn’t trying to come down all fire and brimstone on the guy, even though I was really upset, whether the show got cancelled or not. I was just really disappointed that he’d do something like that.
I take that stuff personally. The commission tells me I can’t do this, so I don’t do it. Then you do it, so you’re getting an unfair edge on me and everyone else who’s playing by the rules. That’s cheating. That’s cheating to win a fight, so fuck you. But I understand that Affliction was going to lose their ass if they went ahead with the show so I can see why they cancelled it and I’m not mad at them. But Josh Barnett did kind of fuck all of us by doing that.
What did you think of Fedor’s decision to turn down the UFC’s recent offers? Do you think the UFC has the best heavyweight division even without him?
Yeah, they certainly do now. The UFC has taken over more and more lately with the division. But I just don’t see how you can expect the UFC to want to partner with your company just to get one fighter. I mean, look around. The UFC has guys like [Lyoto] Machida, Anderson Silva, GSP, BJ Penn. They got Lesnar and several other big name guys. They got them all. They don’t need just one guy to shore up one weight class. People love to watch all the weight classes in MMA. They’ve got huge star power in every division. They don’t need one guy to come and take half their business. It’s ridiculous.
It seems like most of us don’t know much about Chase Gormley, and honestly the first I ever heard of him was when Affliction signed him to fight you. What do you know about him?
He prides himself on his boxing, I think, which he feels is better than mine. He wrestled in junior college, so he has a wrestler type of ground game, real tough on top. But the bottom line is, he’s only got six fights. He’s probably got a bunch of amateur fights and he wrestled his whole life, so he’s got some competitive edge, but I’ve had over forty fights. That’s punching in the face. That’s not wrestling, and there’s a real difference.
But he can tell himself whatever he wants. I’ve read some of his interviews and it’s like he’s trying to talk himself into not being nervous. I think he’s the kind of guy who wants to win in the most boring way possible, just holding me down or something, and that infuriates me.
Even with all your experience, do you worry about the Octagon jitters in your first UFC fight?
I think the Arlovski fight, that was my experience with getting nervous for a big show. I thought I’d been in big shows before, but that was a full arena and a big stage. I was trying not to get too excited for that fight but I think my mind just couldn’t do that and said, hey, this is a huge fight. I think that was probably one of the best Arlovski’s that ever fought, and that was huge. It was bigger than everything I’ve ever been on.
But it’s over. I took a loss and I learned from it. I don’t think [Gormely] has ever been in anything like that. I’m excited for this fight and I really do expect great things for myself in the UFC. No matter what happens, I plan on always having great fights and I want to finish my career here. I’ve got maybe four or five years and I’ve got things that I want to make happen. I don’t want to have to worry about fighting for anyone else ever again.