Rothwell vs. Velasquez helps restore UFC's heavyweight clout

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"The way I look at it," said Rothwell, a 2-1 underdog according to most oddsmakers, "I'm going to make some gamblers some money. [Cain's] got a lot of hype behind him and that's why he's the favorite. That's fine with me. People are going to make some money off this one."

For Velasquez, the former NCAA All-American wrestler who is trying to notch his fifth straight UFC victory on Oct. 24, being as high as a 3-1 favorite in some places just means somebody's been paying attention.

"The people who make those odds, they know their stuff," he said. "They obviously think I'm a better fighter and that I'm going to win. And that's what's going to happen."

Velasquez (6-0) has certainly been the more visible heavyweight for many fans of the sport. Since breaking into the MMA scene in 2008, he's dominated every opponent he's faced and has received a promotional push as the bright young prospect in a class that had been stagnant until very recently.

But Rothwell (30-6), a standout in the now-defunct IFL who racked up 13 straight wins before being knocked out by Andrei Arlovski at an Affliction event in 2008, is quick to point out that while he's been in this sport for nearly a decade and has more than 30 fights on his resume, Velasquez is entering just his sixth pro fight in Los Angeles next weekend.

"He seems like a hard-nosed guy. He's got the wrestling background. He's got a lot of hype behind him and he's feeling good right now," Rothwell said. "He's had everything go his way. But I'm going to hit him and make him uncomfortable and we'll see how he does when things don't go his way. I'm going to be the guy that can actually stop takedowns, the guy who can handle him on the ground, and the guy who's going to hit him harder than he's ever been hit before."

When it comes to finding video evidence to make them feel like their opponents are vulnerable, both Velasquez and Rothwell have material to look at. Rothwell's defeat against Arlvoski was, he admits, one of the worst performances in his career. And while Velasquez is still unbeaten, he did have a few heart-stopping moments against Cheick Kongo in his last outing. Though his wrestling and ground-and-pound attack proved too much for the Frenchman, every second the fight stayed on the feet seemed like a disaster waiting to happen to Velasquez, who was staggered by several clean punches that made it through his defenses.

"It was just me not doing what I was supposed to," said Velasquez. "It was just a split-second. I let him do what he wanted to do and just made a couple of mistakes. When I was in the fight it didn't seem that bad. It just seemed like I was blinking or something. But when I looked at the film, it looked a lot worse than it felt."

But Rothwell, a 6-foot-5 heavyweight who prefers to stand and bang, and has dispatched more than one opponent with his heavy hands and feet, is convinced that Velasquez's troubles on the feet were more than just a momentary lapse.

"He says he doesn't know what happened," said Rothwell. "I do. He got hit. He got hit by a 230-pound guy going backwards. He's really not going to know what happened when I hit him. And I am going to hit him."

The accusation that he's nothing more than a wrestler with no stand-up skills is not a new one for Velasquez. He's been hearing it since his first fight in the UFC, and yet he's still undefeated. When he hears Rothwell disparaging his experience and referring to him as more hype than substance, his subdued response is befitting his quiet demeanor.

Regardless of who emerges from the bout as victor, the fight's mere existence ought to be enough proof that the UFC's heavyweight division has come a long way in recent years. Once the weakest weight class in the organization, the heavyweight division is now looking like the shark tank the 205-pound class has historically been.

For Rothwell, who's spent his entire career bouncing from one smaller promotion to another, it's the perfect time to make his Octagon debut.

"The goal of my career was to get to the UFC, but not just get there -- dominate there and finish my career there. The things I've done so far are not real accomplishments. To me, there's only one accomplishment and that's the belt. This is the chance I've been waiting for. It's my chance to really let my wings unfold. People are going to see an entirely different Ben Rothwell."