It's hard for Ben Rothwell not to get down on himself. He can't help it. He's the kind of guy who looks in the mirror and only sees the flaws. Even when things are going well he can find something to be upset about. And lately, with two losses in his last three fights, things have not been going particularly well.
"I am absolutely not satisfied with any part of my game," he says. "I've been doing this for 10 years and I almost feel embarrassed about that sometimes. Like, really? I've been doing this for ten years and I'm not any better than this?"
The fact that Rothwell's recent losses came against elite opponents -- first former UFC heavyweight champ Andrei Arlovski in 2008, then Cain Velasquez in his UFC debut last fall -- doesn't ease his frustration any. It was never his goal just to compete against the top fighters. He needs victories in order to move his career forward, and maybe just to keep his spot on the UFC roster.
At UFC 110 in Australia this weekend Rothwell faces off against Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, a hero from MMA's past who has been teetering on the brink of retirement lately. Filipovic seemed intent on hanging up his gloves after an uninspired performance in a losing effort against Junior Dos Santos back in September, but Rothwell still sees plenty to be concerned about when it comes to his Croatian counterpart.
"To me, he's still that guy," says Rothwell. "When you have someone who gets told that he doesn't have it anymore, that he's done, and then he takes a fight in the UFC anyway? To me, that's saying something. He's coming to fight."
When it came time to prepare for the once fearsome Filipovic, Rothwell's answer was to move his training camp back home to Wisconsin full-time, foregoing his usual pre-fight workouts at the Miletich camp in Iowa. In part, it was an attempt to reinvigorate his training. Things had become too routine, he says. Trudging into the gym every day felt too much like punching a clock, and his performances reflected it.
But another advantage to sticking around his home state was the time it enabled him to spend with renowned kickboxer and striking coach Duke Roufus, as well as fellow UFC heavyweight Pat Barry, whom Rothwell insists is the best kickboxer in all of MMA.
There may not be two better people anywhere in the nation when it comes to preparing for a head-kicking specialist like "Cro Cop," whose years in the Pride organization were one big knockout reel. The question that dogs Filipovic now is whether he can still pull off those spectacular finishes, or whether the fire in his belly has been extinguished for good. To prepare for all the different iterations fight fans have seen over the years, Rothwell says he's gone through Filipovic's entire video library.
"Even stuff in the past, that's stuff he's capable of doing. And the recent fights, I try to take into account who he's fighting. People talk about his fight with Dos Santos, but they didn't realize how good Dos Santos is. It's not like just because Cro Cop lost to him you're going to go in there and do whatever. The way he beat Gilbert Yvel tells you how tough he is. Cro Cop may have had some rough fights, but he's been fighting all tough guys."
Taking the former top heavyweight lightly is one thing Rothwell definitely can't afford to do. A second straight loss in the UFC could easily lead to him getting cut from the organization, which would mean starting all over again after nearly a decade-long struggle to get here. As critical as Rothwell may be of his own performances, he doesn't have any doubt that he belongs at the sport's highest level. Now he just has to make others believe it too.