You could say Ben Rothwell knows Andre Arlovski better than most. For several months in 2005 and 2006, Rothwell was Arlovski.
On three separate occasions -- UFC 51, 59, and 61 -- one of Rothwell's training partners, Tim Sylvia, met Arlovski for the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight title. In Sylvia's preparation for the latter two, he had Rothwell play the part of the Belarusian.
Rothwell went to school, studying Arlovski's strengths and weaknesses. Standing opposite his 6-foot-8 cohort, he tried to re-create Arvloski's fast hands, his graceful footwork. The more he mimicked the former champ, the more deeply he understood what Sylvia was up against.
"I was going to make sure Tim wasn't going to see anything that he hadn't seen already," Rothwell recently told MMAWeekly.com. "So I understand Arlovksi."
Of course, a fighter's gym serves as a laboratory, and the real world can be different. But when Rothwell got word that he would be facing the man he was for that small epoch in time, he was ready to go.
Now all he has to do is put himself in Sylvia's position. That's not as easy as it sounds.
"When you're in the ring doing it, it doesn't really matter, because Tim obviously has things that he can do differently," he continues. "Even though I was Arlovski, it doesn't mean that I have someone to be Arlovski for me. It's a whole new challenge for me. But at least I'm understanding what I'm getting in the ring with."
If this all sounds like some weird transpersonal experiment in the fight game, it might be. In a sense, Rothwell is relying on his muscle memory for Arlovski's feel, his rhythms. Doing that, he can train his body to counter the attacks he will face.
Rothwell is doing his best to find people who can do what he did a few years ago. Sylvia is still around, but is preparing to face an entirely different animal of fighter, Fedor Emelianenko, the same night the Kenosha, Wisc. resident goes to war with Arlovski.
Rothwell's coach, Pat Miletich, sees the bout as an extension of Sylvia's trilogy.
"He's 1-2 against Tim, from our camp, now he's fighting another monster from our gym," he said. "So you know he's training hard and getting geared up to try and beat a guy from my gym. He's well aware of Ben's abilities."
July 19 is Rothwell's first appearance after a long period of limbo in his career. After going undefeated in the International Fight League, Rothwell left the organization near the peak of his popularity. As one of the IFL's marquee fighters, he had gotten more exposure than anywhere before. He sees Affliction's "Banned" as an opportunity to step back into the spotlight, and ultimately, give the fans a new guy to root for.
"If I go in and do it as I know I can and beat him, then it's two great heavyweights," Rothwell explains. "Because Andre's already proven himself. Win or lose, Andre has fans, and I'm the guy that has the most to gain from this, and I want to go out and make that happen."
Rothwell hesitates to name Arlovksi as his toughest challenge yet. It's almost like he's already faced the former champ; he respects him, but he's also seen a lot of tough fights.
"I fought a 15 minute war with Tim (Sylvia) when we were both younger, and that's obviously always going to be a super tough fight," he said. "I've had some wars, there's no doubt about it. Andre and I, we both have the type of fists that can end fights quickly. He's been talking about it, saying we're going to have a war. That's what I hope happens."
The best case for fight of the night will be if the two stand toe-to-toe. But with his outlook, perhaps gleaned from his inside information, Rothwell tells fans to expect the unexpected when they meet.
"Don't be surprised if you see Andre shoot a double," Rothwell said. "Don't be surprised if you see Andre go for a submission. It's a thing I know could easily happen, and I plan on presenting the same problems for him."