A few years ago, Ben Rothwell was a very different person than he is today. And he attributes his improvements as a fight to the changes he's made over the years.
The top heavyweight title contender is currently riding a three-fight win streak, all of which have come by finish, heading into Saturday's UFC on FOX main card contest against former champion Josh Barnett.
As aggressive and angry as he can look when he's in the cage, knocking opponents out or submitting them, the veteran's recent success is due in large part to how happy he is of late. We sat down with the big man recently and recounted the last time we'd spoken -- some years ago.
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Rothwell was a great interview back then, as he is now. However, he also clearly had some things in his life that were weighing heavily on his mind.
Pretty much unprompted, Rothwell had gone into some detail about unfortunate drama and controversy at his old gym and team in Iowa, Miletich Fighting Systems. That various serious problems of the most personal nature between team members late in that all-time great stable's run existed is pretty much an open industry secret.
During that conversation, however, Rothwell seemed fine with making them less than secret. A lot of what fans have heard from Rothwell of late also seems to be tinged with irritation -- after his last fight was canceled and he didn't received opportunities that he felt he should have, afterwards.
Big Ben is opinionated, to be sure, and unafraid to express himself. However, he's fundamentally content, these days, if ambitious.
"That really shows the difference," he told us.
"I used to have a whole bunch of negative energy. I was thinking negative energy and so I showed negative energy. Ultimately, that helped spur me to start my own gym. And starting my own gym helped me change as a person.
"You can't have a nice, successful gym with that energy. I had experience and had confidence that if I could train myself, I could train others as well. Thank God my city of Kenosha embraced me. Things just started getting exponentially better with each win. So, I dedicate each win to my gym, to my family. I call my gym my family because that's what they are. I've had some good trainers around me and that has helped me change. Finding Luis Claudio has been a huge part of my resurgence. He doesn't just help me with my jiu-jitsu, and make me more dangerous and well-rounded, he has helped give me confidence."
Starting a second career as head coach and gym owner while he embarked on a UFC title run of his own has been hectic and challenging for Rothwell, but it has also helped him create the type of environment that he needs around him. "I had to become my own coach and call a lot of the shots. I would never recommend it to a young kid or fighter, but I have 17 years in the sport," he continued.
"I have to believe in myself to call the right shots. We've also created a far more positive environment. The gym started doing well once we did that, I started managing fighters and promoting shows. I realized I could be a pretty good business man. I realized that I was changing people's lives. We've got kids at the gym who used to struggle in school, but now they are getting good grades. We have kids at the gym who used to be bullied but who don't get bullied anymore. We have adults who have lost all this weight. There's so much positivity compounding and it helps me."
Rothwell is intent on becoming the world heavyweight champion. A win this Saturday will help support his case that he's ready for a title fight.
As badly as the 34-year-old wants to win gold, however, he insists that he no longer fights for himself. Being a team leader has made Rothwell concerned with something other than his own success.
"It has sparked something in me that I always wanted, and that is to fight for something greater than myself," he admitted.
"Fighter fight for money, cars, houses, fame, all that. But once that went away, once those desires left me, that's when my win streak started. I have a power inside of me that no other heavyweight has. I have something that no dollar amount can pay for. That gives me a sense of power and with each win, that grows and I feel a total sense of accomplishment."