LAS VEGAS -- It's not quite a secret that aside from a few exceptions, the names strewn over the UFC's heavyweight landscape look like a snapshot straight out of 2010. With average age of nearly 35 years old, no division's top-10 is more tenured than the big boys. So considering we've seen the same cast of characters trade hands for the better part of the decade, one would expect a certain level of consistency when it comes to rankings.
And for the most part, that consistency existed. Or at least it did until the Great Heavyweight Revival of 2015 barged in like a weather-worn horde, flipped the established order and brought golden era names like Andrei Arlovski and Ben Rothwell back to the forefront with the most bloodthirsty coup imaginable.
"The heavyweight division got turned on its head when Arlovski won," a fired up Rothwell recently told MMAFighting.com. "Then a week later me, and then (Fabricio) Werdum. It was like, boom! The whole heavyweight division just changed. So it's a very exciting time to be a top-10 heavyweight, and I think something special is going to happen soon."
Rothwell isn't wrong. Gaze back at the heavyweight division even as recent as a year ago -- Cain Velasquez at the top, Frank Mir on his way out, Rothwell and Arlovski an afterthought, and Werdum an easy meal waiting to be devoured. Now take a look. What's old is new again. Werdum is the man strutting around with gold, the trifecta of Rothwell/Arlovski/Mir have become bloodlust incarnate, and hell, even the legendary Fedor Emelianenko is fixing to reenter the mix.
It's as strange of a phenomena as we've ever seen, and Rothwell is poised to be one of its most surprising beneficiaries. After knocking out Brandon Vera, Alistair Overeem, and Matt Mitrione in succession, "Big Ben" has been clear about what he wants: not the next title shot, but a No. 1 contender fight against one of his fellow big men jockeying for position atop the division.
"I'm a guy, I'm all about dues need to be paid. I just look at the landscape of the heavyweight division and I need to fight one of those guys first," Rothwell said.
"[December] is fine with me, but even if it's end of October, I'll be ready for that. Because I know [a lot of the top guys] are trying to heal some injuries, and hell I think even Werdum said he needed some time to heal, so all of the heavyweights are busted up right now and hopefully we'll all be fighting by the end of the year."
Rothwell's resurgence has been assisted by a more vocal "Big Ben" than ever before. The 33-year-old veteran cut perhaps the most bizarrely entertaining promo of 2015 after his victory over Mitrione, then made himself an omnipresent figure in Las Vegas at UFC 189. Everywhere the action went, Rothwell was sure to follow -- his legion of crazed Rothwellians not far behind.
"In the IFL, I was doing all sorts of interviews and stuff. There wasn't as much media coverage, but I did stuff all the time," Rothwell said. "When I came to the UFC, I would've been as vocal. But when you go 1-2 in your first three fights, I didn't really have much to say. And then I had some ups and downs even getting to this three-fight win streak.
"I just knew that before I could go and open my mouth, say the things that I'm saying, that I had to have something backing it. I'm on a three-fight win streak with finishes right now. Yeah, I got something to say now. My fists are going to do the rest of the talking."
His bigger pulpit has led its share of detractors too, fans who aren't so quick to forgive Rothwell for the testosterone replacement therapy snafu that landed him in hot water two years ago. Rothwell has worn his remorse on his sleeve when it comes to that incident, and for the most part people have come around.
Rather, it's the continued overlooking of his abilities that gets him the most -- the flippant remarks about how big, awkward Ben wouldn't stand a chance against the Velasquezs and Werdums of the world. It's slights like that which draw him back to his post-Mitrione state, where the timbre raises in his voice, the swears start rolling, and if you're lucky, that notorious laugh makes an appearance.
"There's always going to be haters," Rothwell said. "People hated Jesus. I mean, let's go, let's get serious. I'm going to keep crushing motherf**kers and there will be some guy doubting me, and that's fine. It's my fuel. But with each one of these wins, my momentum is growing and I feel the tsunami of Rothwell is coming. I feel more and more fans coming to me, and with each one of these opponents, it's going to become more and more evident. I'm going to rock these motherf**kers. Let's go."