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Ben Rothwell: 'I teared' up because UFC 189 'was getting so intense'

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Aside from the Irish fans, no force was more omnipresent at this year's International Fight Week than Ben Rothwell. After successfully campaigning for a spot at the festivities, "Big Ben" made his presence felt from like no other fighter, attending virtually every event he could from Wednesday's open workouts all the way to Saturday's fight night, holding court wherever he went.

"It was awesome," Rothwell reflected on Tuesday's edition The MMA Hour. "... I felt like I had my own expo.

"They're talking about my fights, they're talking about what part of my fights they like, they wanted to hear the laugh, would I start dancing for them. It was completely different (than past expos) and there was a lot more interaction with almost every single person I got to talk to, which, to me, I think that's important."

Rothwell, currently the No. 7 ranking heavyweight on the UFC's rankings, has undergone a career resurgence of late, riding a three-fight win streak over Brandon Vera, Alistair Overeem, and Matt Mitrione to the cusp of contendership for a UFC title. Rothwell's popularity has soared during his streak, in part because of his willingness to put himself out there, as anyone who saw his memorable post-fight speech after Mitrione can attest to.

While "Big Ben" spent the majority of his time during fight week campaigning for a top contender bout against either Andrei Arlovski or Junior dos Santos, he also had the luxury of attending UFC 189. And in retrospect, the experience is one that he'll never forget.

"When you're sitting ringside, you can't see how daunting a filled arena of just screaming fans is," Rothwell said. "And I literally, I wanted to fight so bad.

"To be a part of that event, to feel the energy, to feel what I'm fighting for, it did -- I teared in my eye because I was getting so intense. I just could've went and fought anyone Saturday night."

Days later, the MMA world continues to buzz about UFC 189. With high stakes, a bevy of action, and a surreal run of entertaining fights, the event will likely go down as one of the greatest pay-per-views the UFC has ever staged, if not the single greatest.

The night was so electric that even a seasoned veteran like Rothwell found it hard to contain himself as fight after fight delivered in a major way.

"It kept one-upping itself, because every fight was awesome," Rothwell said. "I mean, right off the get-go, what an awesome flying knee knockout (from Thomas Almeida). Then Gunnar Nelson doesn't have a boring fight, he comes out and sticks the dude in the face, gets a beautiful choke. Then it's like, (Jeremy) Stephens lands an insane jumping standing knee that just flattens this guy. It was insane. It was one of the baddest knockouts ever.

"And then Robbie (Lawler) is a guy who, I trained with him for six years at Militech. Watching the resurgence of his career, yeah, I think it's really touching to me, because him and I are described as when old becomes new. ... I kind of feel like I'm the heavyweight version of him. Like, him and I are right now making our names, doing our thing, and he's doing it huge.

"And then the main event. When you're in an arena like that, an arena just literally about to make the stands fall down and the roof is about to blow off, and then for McGregor to just do it, Conor just comes through, it was on the tip of everybody's tongue -- can this really happen? Can this guy really do it? -- it was like, wow, what an event."

By any metric, UFC 189 was on track to be one of the highest grossing events of the year, breaking the UFC's own U.S. gate record and drawing a record number of fans for Friday's weigh-ins.

It remains to be seen whether those figures will translate into pay-per-view success, though by delivering an unforgettable night of fights, UFC 189 already succeeded where many other blockbuster events in combat sports fail. And that, Rothwell pointed out, is hugely important in its own right.

"What is awesome about it is, because of an event like that, I bet you [all the bandwagon fans] start watching everything now," Rothwell said. "They're going to find out who's who, and they're going to be like, ‘remember that big hairy bastard we ran into?' and they're going to remember me. It is cool, man. That's how we're going to make more fans."