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Ben Rothwell says accepting Junior dos Santos fight was ‘strategically stupid’

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The road to the UFC title ended in Croatia for "Big" Ben Rothwell, who saw his four-fight win streak snapped at the hands of Junior dos Santos at UFC Fight Night 86. The loss sent Rothwell back to a crowded landscape of heavyweight contenders and spoiled a surprising run that appeared to have the 34-year-old on the verge of competing for a UFC strap.

"I didn't fulfill everything that I said I was going to do," a disappointed Rothwell said Monday on The MMA Hour, speaking for the first time since falling to dos Santos. "I didn't back-up everything that I said. I said I'm a man of my word and I didn't follow through with it, so that hurts me more than anything."

Rothwell currently sits at No. 6 on the UFC heavyweight rankings, even despite the loss, so he knows all is not lost in the race towards gold. Still, he can't help but wonder if he made the right decision.

The fight against dos Santos never made much sense from a rankings standpoint. At the time, Rothwell was one of the division's hottest fighters, a winner of four straight and fresh off a submission win over the unsubmittable Josh Barnett. Dos Santos, on the other hand, was still reeling from a TKO loss to Alistair Overeem and saw his stock hit an all-time low.

Theoretically, the fight didn't offer much to gain for "Big Ben" other than another notch onto his belt. But in his haste to stay active, Rothwell accepted it just days after dispatching Barnett.

"I was on a four-fight win streak and I took on a guy off a loss. It was a stupid fight for me, strategically," Rothwell said.

"There some regret and there's not. I think more, not regret, but a learning lesson. I think right after the fights, I need to be locked up and somebody else needs to take my phone and take my wallet, because I get crazy after a fight. It's when I do crazy interviews, it's when I'm off the wall, and I think I get high off the wins. I don't know what it is, but it's obvious I'm not thinking rationally at the time. It was good for the UFC because they got to fill a main event. It was just a strategically stupid fight."

Despite coming in as an underdog, dos Santos ended up having his best showing in years as he swept Rothwell on the scorecards and won the striking battle by a whopping margin of 157-78.

Rothwell said on Monday that he felt off his game from the beginning of the fight. He called his uncharacteristic performance a "physical malfunction" and hinted that there were injuries which affected his camp. However he refused to delve into specifics or make excuses, chalking the loss up instead to a learning experience.

"I just look back at my friend Robbie Lawler. He made his resurgence, got to that title fight," Rothwell said. "Mine wasn't a title fight but I feel it could've been. He lost a five-round decision only to come back, and look what's he done now. I feel like I'm very much just a heavyweight version of him. I'm following behind him. I learned a lot in this five-round fight.

"I might have taken a loss on my record, but I'm far from defeated. In fact, I'm very much the opposite. I think that fight gave me the fuel and the knowledge that I needed to really take myself to being the best mixed martial artist that I can be, and that's my new goal. There's no more about the title. I'm done chasing something I have no control over. I'm back to why I started this sport, and it's to find out how good I can really be. With each and every fight from here on out, that's my focus."

Timing is everything in the fight game, and Rothwell now finds himself with a few options for his next step.

Alistair Overeem's victory on Sunday over Andrei Arlovski kicked off a trio of major heavyweight fights that are slated to unfold over the next several months. If all goes well, UFC champion Fabricio Werdum will collide with Stipe Miocic later this week at UFC 198, then Cain Velasquez and Travis Browne will meet on July 9 at UFC 200.

Rothwell said he would love to fight one of those six contenders once the dust settles.

"That's the three fights I've really been paying attention to, and I feel like my next opponent would be taking on one of those six guys. Most likely, one of the losers of those six guys," Rothwell said.

"I'm more pushing for the loser of Stipe-Werdum or obviously Arlovski now. I'll happily rematch Overeem but I don't think he's too interested in that right now, so obviously I'm going to be seeing what Arlovksi wants to do and if the UFC wants that, or obviously the loser of Stipe and Werdum would be an excellent fight as well. One of those, I'd really like to push for, because Browne and Velasquez are not until July, and then who knows."