At 40 years old, and with 23 years of combat sports competition to his name, Ben Rothwell isn't quite done just yet.
The veteran heavyweight spent the last 13 years on the UFC roster, scoring notable wins over the likes of Josh Barnett, Matt Mitrione, Alistair Overeem, Brendan Schaub and Gilbert Yvel, among others. However, as he entered the last fight of his contract earlier this year, Rothwell began to get a sense the promotion might have different plans for his future.
"I looked at real things like my age and some of the big names that just got released," Rothwell told MMA Underground. "I'm like, 'This isn't looking good for me,' and I've only got so much time."
So Rothwell and his reps at First Round Management began to seek different options for his next endeavor. Ultimately, they decided a switch to the upstart all-striking promotion Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship was the right move and negotiated a release from the UFC deal to make a move.
"David Feldman and BKFC, they came in and they said they like the way I fight, and my management and I agree—my style is made for this," Rothwell said. "It really is, and all the things lined up, and they came with a serious contract and made me excited to get into this, and I'm ready to put on some great fights for them."
At 6''4', the hulking "Big" Ben Rothwell struck a menacing presence in the cage throughout his MMA career, which started in 1999. The proud Wisconsin native was a pioneer in the sport, competing well before today's modern popularity boom. In just his fifth professional appearance, he faced off with future UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia on the Iowa regional scene. He would later cross paths with other UFC champs, as well, including Andrei Arlovski, Ricco Rodriguez and Cain Velasquez.
"People don't realize that my first six fights were done in three nights," Rothwell recalled. "I fought in tournaments my first three fights. I was 17, 18 years old. I was fighting men, and I had to fight them two at a time. That's how I started this, and I wasn't getting paid either. I was doing it because I love it, you know? The money was nothing the first so many years of this, and I was doing it anyway."
Rothwell says his passion still remains, and he's anxious to make his bare-knuckle boxing debut, which takes place at Saturday's "BKFC 30: Hunt vs. Henry" event, which streams live on the BKFC app (9 p.m. ET) from Fant-Ewing Coliseum in Monroe, La.
Rothwell (0-0) competes in the night's co-main event, where he'll take on Alabama's Bobo O'Bannon (3-3), who openly called for the matchup once the MMA veteran's arrival was announced.
"Him and his coach were kind of talking smack, and they're going to this and they're going to that, so I kept telling them like, 'Hey, that's the guy. I'll fight whoever. I'll fight whoever you want, but that guy, he wants to make it personal,'" Rothwell said. "Outside of fighting, most guys are cool. Like everybody, we're all cordial, everything's good—but, hey man, in the cage, it's a fight, and he's made it a fight with me.
"He thinks that he's going to this and he's going to that. Well, I'm going to prove to this man he's never faced anything the likes of me. I know it. He fights a bit like a bully because he's a big guy, but he's going to try and bully a guy that's bigger than him, and I've been doing the bullying for 22 years, so we'll see how it goes for him, but it's going to be a great fight for the fans, I'll tell you that."
Rothwell joins a growing cast of UFC veterans on the BKFC roster, a list that currently includes the likes of Joey Beltran, Ryan Benoit, Chris Camozzi, John Dodson, Pearl Gonzales, Hector Lombard, Bubba McDaniel, Chad Mendes, Rachael Ostovich, Mike Perry and Paige VanZant, among others. While damaged hands are a reality when competing without the protection of gloves and facial lacerations seem an inevitability come fight night, Rothwell said he's found the striking-focused training to be beneficial to his overall condition.
"The training has actually been awesome because wrestling and jiu-jitsu—and I love jiu-jitsu. It was like the very first thing I learned," Rothwell explained. "I was 17, I really got into jiu-jitsu. It's what got me hooked into MMA, but now at 40, I do a hard wrestling and jiu-jitsu practice, and I'll be OK and get through the whole hour, but the next day, my body's just like, f--- you. It just hurts.
"Now, I box a whole hour. I get shark-tanked. I have guys on me, and I've got a 6''8' training partner. I've got Golden Gloves boxers. I've got everything, and I box these dudes and I'm great the next day. I get right into another cardio. I'm sparring three times a week. The training's actually really good for me, and my body likes it."
How Rothwell will fare in BKFC remains to be seen, but Saturday should offer a solid introduction. The longtime MMA veteran believes he can be an immediate force in the promotion and make a run to the BKFC title in short order.
"Step one is this fight has to be dealt with and dealt with the right way; that's it," Rothwell said. "Yes, I can't help but be like, 'Look at the top five guys. Who are the people in the division? What are some of the matchups?' There's a bunch of good matchups, as long as I can get them to accept the fight with me. I'm sure the top-five guys will. You know, they're the tougher guys of the bunch. A couple of them even got a little bit mouthy, so that's great. Let's deal with this. Let's show them.
"Some of the bare-knuckle fans, they don't know about us MMA guys. That's how they label us. I'm a fighter, period. I don't care what I'm doing, I'm a fighter. I'm going to come here, I've got to prove to these fans what I'm about, get them on board, and deal with this Bobo the way I know I can, and then we're going to move on to those other guys."
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