The BKFC is Ben Rothwell’s last chance as a combat sports athlete to accomplish the mission he set out to fulfill when he started fighting.
At 40, financial freedom is no longer a concern for the Kenosha, Wis., heavyweight. Living a modest lifestyle, Rothwell said he can live comfortably.
“Can I go out and buy a Lamborghini right now? Yeah, but it wouldn’t be smart,” he told MMA Fighting.
There’s a different prize on the line for this veteran prize fighter, and it draws back to the reason he got into this business in the first place. It’s showing up as the best version of himself, the guy who fought former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett, who knocked out multi-promotion champ Alistair Overeem, who got wild against Brandon Vera.
“I had a belief in myself, like, I believe I’m one of the best fighters in the world,” Rothwell said. “In MMA, I was ranked at one time, fourth in the UFC. I was getting there. I was proving I was the best in the world.
“But I still, to this day, didn’t really show all of my stuff, and that’s ground included, but especially on my striking. This is my last chance to get it right. … I have an ability as a heavyweight to show some things that have never been seen before. You’ve never seen a heavyweight move and do the things that I can do. It’s finally time. I’ve got to let that happen.”
Over a decade into his career in high-level MMA, Rothwell has had to redefine what success looks like. Because he wasn’t always able to show up, and because the UFC no longer promised the platform for him to turn things around, he took matters into his own hands and left the world’s biggest MMA promotion.
There aren’t many corners left to turn in his career. This is the best one possible as he brings all his past into the ring on Saturday against an unheralded striker, Bobo O’Bannon, who believes the worst version of him will show up.
That’s at least the story Rothwell is telling himself. The best way to get out of his head is to make things personal. That way, when the fists start flying, he’s already committed to settling a score. Then, maybe, he settles a score for yourself.
At the very least, Rothwell could push away the previous moment his career, a first-round blowout against Marcos Rogerio de Lima in the octagon.
“I threw a jab and I let him leg kick me and I waited,” Rothwell said. “That’s not me at all. That was total f****** bulls***, honestly.”
One of Rothwell’s most famous moments came in the octagon against Vera when he let everything go. After two plodding rounds, he literally shook himself up, bobbing back and forth wildly, before charging in and pounding his opponent until referee Herb Dean intervened.
Rothwell remembers Barnett’s reaction to getting submitted in their meeting six years ago.
“‘There’s another version of you,’ Josh told me afterward, ‘that showed up against me, and f*** me, because that guy doesn’t get stopped,’” Rothwell said. “Josh said, ‘Ben, you show up like that, you’ll beat everyone.’”
That guy is still there. He just needs to come out, and so Rothwell chases that state of being. Ask him about his plan to make sure he gets there, and specifics are slim. He’s just going to do it, and that’s all there is to that. What other choice is there?
“There’s no reason to slow start,” he said. “It’s a two-minute round, and there’s only five of them. This is go time, and go time Ben Rothwell is someone getting knocked the f*** out.”