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Ben Rothwell: I Need to Become a Contender or Find Something Else to Do

UFC heavyweight Ben Rothwell and Andrei Arlovski aren't friends, exactly. Not in the strictest sense of the word. They spent a little over ten minutes in the ring together back in July of 2008. Since then the two heavyweights haven't talked much.

Still, Rothwell said, it was a strange feeling watching the latest stop on Arlovski's precipitous decline last Saturday night. Watching his former foe laid out on the canvas after getting knocked out by Sergei Kharitonov in the first round of the Strikeforce Grand Prix, he felt sick to his stomach, though he's not entirely sure why.

"Seeing him knocked out like that, it makes me feel bad," Rothwell said. "I couldn't even be like, hey, awesome knockout. It's like seeing that happen to a friend, and I don't even know Andrei all that well. I just know him from when we fought, and before he was really cool to me and after he was really cool to me. I haven't really talked to him since, so I don't know why I feel that way, but you just have that kind of connection with someone you fought a war with. I don't want to see him like that."

Rothwell (31-7) has had a lot of time to sit around and think about stuff like this over the last eight months. Maybe too much time. After injuring his knee in the first round of his UFC 115 fight with Gilbert Yvel, Rothwell has been on the sidelines. He had surgery in late July, and now has rehabbed it to the point where he can finally do just about everything in the gym.

"I'm just trying to hold [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva off," he joked. "They want you to fight tomorrow, you know what I mean? They want you back as soon as they can get you. ... I think right now if I was a lightweight they'd be telling me, 'Fight or get out of here.' But being an experienced heavyweight, they're going to keep me on the roster and keep me in the mix. Experienced heavyweights are a little harder to come by."

But Rothwell isn't rushing himself. Realistically, he expects to make his return to action this summer, approximately a year from his last fight. If that means whatever momentum he may have gained from the decision over Yvel will have evaporated – or even if it means that fans might have completely forgotten who he is – so be it.

In fact, maybe that's even what he's hoping for.

"I kind of like that, because maybe it means I'll get a fresh start. People might not just look at me like, here's this can who got beat up by Cain [Velasquez] and then won a boring decision against Gilbert Yvel. Good. Give me a year off, forget all that, and let me come back as something new. Because this is it, man. I've got to come back, do something exciting, become a contender, or else I need to think about something else to do with my life."

Rothwell turned 29 in October. He has nearly 40 pro fights to his credit, but is a meager 1-1 in the UFC. The fact that his loss came against the current champion, who is now widely considered the world's best heavyweight, doesn't do much to comfort him.

"A loss is a loss," he said. "I lost to some guys I shouldn't have. I lost to arguably the best Andrei Arlovski and I lost to the best heavyweight in the world right now in Cain. But it's still a loss."

By his own metric, he can hardly even consider himself a real UFC fighter until he racks up at least ten bouts in the organization, he said.

"Having ten or more fights in the UFC, to me, is a big deal. I've got two now. If you have ten fights where you had to win just to keep getting invited back, that means something. That's a real UFC veteran. You have guys saying, 'Oh, I fought in the UFC.' Yeah, you fought one time and lost. Don't tell anyone that anymore. But if you look at a guy like Chris Lytle, I love guys like that. That's a real UFC veteran. That's a big deal, and I would like to be able to walk away from the sport being able to say that about myself."

He recently partnered with Gracie Barra to open his own gym – Rothwell MMA in Kenosha, Wisconsin – and says he could see himself settling into the life of a full-time coach somewhere down the road.

For now though, Rothwell is focused on making his impact felt in the UFC. After so long out of action, he knows he'll be expected to justify his roster spot when he finally makes it back into the Octagon in the coming months, he said.

"By then I'll be everything I can be and there'll be no excuses. I'll have to perform."

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