Ben Rothwell may be further from the UFC title picture than he would like, but "Big Ben" will be still watching UFC 198 with a keen eye this Saturday.
Rothwell hopes to fight the loser of the heavyweight title clash between UFC champion Fabricio Werdum and Stipe Miocic, which takes place at the 45,000-seat soccer stadium Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil. On Monday, Rothwell said that while he is "rooting" for Miocic to pull the upset, he worries how fighting in enemy territory will affect his fellow Midwesterner.
"I feel like Stipe really has a lot going against him," Rothwell said on The MMA Hour. "I know he's fought in Brazil before, but I think this is going to be a whole other animal. He's not fighting (Fabio) Maldonado. He's fighting the champion, and he's fighting the champion on his home turf. I don't even think Brazil cared about Maldonado when Stipe fought him. No disrespect to him, but it's not the same as fighting one of their heroes, and Werdum is going to have that crowd the whole week of the fight."
UFC 198 is setting up to be the biggest mixed martial arts event ever held in Brazil. A cavalcade of Brazilian stars are slated to compete on the card, from Ronaldo Souza and Vitor Belfort to Mauricio Rua and Cris Cyborg. Because of this, Rothwell believes the gamesmanship from excited locals is going to begin from the moment Miocic touches down in Curitiba.
"Stipe is going to be dealing with things the week of the fight," Rothwell said. "Dude, people mess with you, they do when you're fighting on someone's turf. You have to be careful where you go buy your coffee, where you go buy your food. At all times, you've got to keep looking over your shoulder. That's just how it is, and in Brazil it's going to present to the highest extent, in my experience. So Stipe really has a huge hill to climb. He does."
Still, from a stylistic sense, there is a lot to like about UFC 198's main event.
Werdum is a perfect 6-0 since returning to the UFC in 2012 and has developed a crafty stand-up game to compliment his world-class grappling abilities under the tutelage of Kings MMA coach Rafael Cordeiro. Miocic, meanwhile, has won eight of his 10 fights inside the Octagon and brings a strong boxing and wrestling base into the match-up, highlighted by recent TKO wins over Mark Hunt and Andrei Arlovski.
"On the feet, I think, is where Stipe feels like he's going to win," Rothwell said. "I think he sees some of the weaknesses that I see (in Werdum) and he feels he can catch that chin. And he can. That's how you're going to win the fight. But if he starts using his Mark Hunt gameplan or he starts pulling Werdum down, obviously that's going to be tough for him because I haven't seen much of Stipe's submission defense and I haven't really seen him apply many submissions of his own.
"Werdum is very crafty and he can even turn submissions on the feet, so he's got those and I'm not sure how prepared Stipe is for those. That could be the changing factor if Stipe doesn't start lighting him up on the feet. That, and just how he looks in the first couple minutes is really going to let me know how the whole week of the fight has treated him. If Stipe comes out there and looks not right, kind of slow, then alright, something happened. It'll be a bummer."