While it seems like ages ago now, at this time last year Ben Rothwell was mired in what he calls the "lowest point" of his career. Rothwell, a veteran heavyweight who at the time had been prescribed testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone in the aftermath of a dramatic Aug. 2013 win over Brandon Vera. The UFC acted swiftly, handing down a nine-month suspension that had the 33-year-old agonizing over his wrong turn.
"I didn't know what I was doing, I felt like I needed it (TRT)," Rothwell admitted on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "I was getting endocrinologists and doctors who were like: ‘If you can do this, then you should. This is about your health. This isn't about fighting, it's going to help you.' Things of that nature.
"And I was angry, because you can't point the finger at anybody, but it's obvious that [PEDs] have been running rampant in our sport. A lot of guys do it. And I really felt like, man, I'm at a disadvantage. I know these other guys are doing it. Who knows what's going on, hormones are messed up, you start thinking crazy, like, I need to do this."
Rothwell ultimately persevered through his struggles, returning to the UFC this past September with a devastating first-round knockout win over Alistair Overeem.
While he said he feels redeemed to have done it all without the use of TRT, which earlier this year became illegal in MMA, Rothwell is most proud of his ability to fight through the many complications that arose when weaning off the controversial treatment, unlike some of his contemporaries.
"It's very, very hard to overcome the effects of being on it and not being on it, having to recover from that," Rothwell said. "And I think a lot of people just counted me out. ... I found out a lot about myself. Bigfoot, on the other hand, looked the exact opposite. He looked like a guy who came off of it and isn't fighting the same. He was flat-footed and his looked like a punching bag, and I think that's what people expected from me. That's why I was a 5-to-1 underdog.
"It needed to happened," Rothwell added of failing his drug test. "It really sucked, and I was at a really low point in my career when that came out, coming off the win (over Vera), because I felt tarnished. Everybody turns on you. They're like, oh, you're a cheater, you're this and that. The best thing that could've possibly happened to me is that I beat this. I come back and I have the biggest win of my career, I cashed my bonus check, and I proved to everybody that I really did, I beat TRT.
"If there's anybody who should look up to somebody, Vitor Belfort should look up to me and be like: ‘Wow, he did it. I can beat this. I can do it.' Now, if he can, I don't know. The guy's been doing it a lot longer than me, and the longer you do that stuff, the more dependent you become on it."
Rothwell is currently eyeing a return date of early 2015 while rehabilitating the arm injury he suffered blocking one of Overeem's kicks. And having played on both sides of the fence, it's not lost on him that the rash of out-of-competition injuries seen in 2014 has coincided with the UFC's increased efforts to drug test its athletes.
"I think a lot of guys resort to this stuff because of poor training," Rothwell speculated. "They're getting trained in the wrong ways. You hear about more injuries are becoming rampant. Of course they're becoming rampant, because the testing has gotten better. Guys are like, ‘oh, I can't take EPO anymore and have unlimited cardio, I'm going to have to come off this stuff.' And all of a sudden there are all these injuries. Yeah, no kidding.
"A big day for me was the enhanced drug testing. That was when I became okay with everything. That's when I knew I could win a title. I know I could beat anybody because these guys are going to get tested for EPO, growth hormone. Things that were really, really hard to detect before are now getting tested for. That scares the s**t out of a lot of people, I can assure you of that."