Walking into Roufus Sport Academy in Milwaukee, I crossed paths with a man who resembled UFC heavyweight Ben Rothwell, but this one looked slimmed down from the man who beat Gilbert Yvel in a decision at UFC 115. Rothwell sustained a knee injury in that fight, and has been rehabbing his knee since.
This same Rothwell-lookalike made his way through a killer sparring practice, followed by a conditioning session where coach Duke Roufus bounced up and down on this fighter's abs as he did crunches.
Turns out that this was Rothwell, and he's looking at his UFC 135 bout to show how he's improved during the layoff.
"I've really worked hard on myself. It's not a comeback. It's an unveiling," Rothwell told Cagewriter. "I have been off for more than a year, and instead of using it as a layoff I've used it as a huge building block. I posted a few pictures, and people said, 'Whoa, this guy ain't the same.' When I came back to Duke, he said, 'People who are off because of an injury usually gain 20 lbs. You look like you've lost 20 lbs.'
Rothwell has 37 fights under that belt, and he sees that experience as an asset in preparing to end the layoff in a bout with fellow veteran Mark Hunt.
"I've been fighting for so long, and I've had layoffs, I've been out. I think I'm one of the few guys who can come back from such a long layoff and not look like I've missed a beat. I'm really banking on that fact. As far as Americans go, I'm one of the most experienced guys in the sport. I've been fighting the longest. I'm 31-7, and I've gone through a lot, inside and outside the Octagon."
He hurt his knee in the first round of the bout with Yvel, but is proud that he was able to complete the fight with a victory.
"It was a big challenge for me because I knew my knee was hurt, right at the beginning of the fight. I was in a must-win situation. I'm known for having exciting fights, and it wasn't one of my more exciting fights. Unfortunately for the crowd, they didn't like it, but for me, it was a tremendous mental victory because I knew what I was up against. I was on the brink of defeat, and I fought through and I won. I went through a three-round bout on one leg and won."
Back for a title run
Now, Rothwell wants to make a run for the title, in part because he isn't happy with the way other fighters have acted towards fans.
"A lot of these guys, especially champions, I see how they act, and it enrages me. It's not right. It's not fair," he said. "I fight for the fans because without them, I wouldn't be able to do this. A lot of guys talk the talk, but people know when they meet me, I smile in my pictures. I love giving autographs because I am very thankful for everyone that's made the sport possible. That motivating factor has made me who I am now, and it's time to go out and take what's mine."
He wants to be the kind of champ that fans deserve because MMA, and all the people involved in the sport, made such a marked difference on his life.
"When I was 17, 18 years old, I was on a path of destruction. I had no guidance. I had a gorilla on my shoulder. It wasn't even a chip. I was very lost. The sport has completely changed me. It's made me a far more humble person. It showed me the truth about a lot of people, and it showed me the truth about myself. The sport has given me a reason to be a good person. I have a lot that I fight to protect, and this sport gave me all that. I am forever indebted to it."