When it comes to light heavyweights moving up a division, Ben Rothwell thinks it’s just a matter of opportunity.
“Big Ben” is set to welcome longtime 205-pound contender Ovince Saint Preux to the heavyweight division on May 13, when the two fight in Jacksonville, Fla. Rothwell doesn’t care that it’s a fight that may not affect his standing in his own rankings. After fights with Gian Villante (another light heavyweight transplant) and Maurice Greene fell through, he’s just glad to have a booking, especially given the limited options due to coronavirus pandemic travel restrictions.
So how does he feel about smaller fighters coming up to the heavyweight division to challenge him?
“I already went through that with [Villante], so I already went through all those emotions about these guys are moving up to heavyweight,” Rothwell said Friday on The A-Side live chat. “They think the heavyweights suck. Jon Jones is beating everybody, they’re running from him. I kind of got over it.
Cormier and Couture are two of the greatest two-division success stories, with Cormier holding the UFC light heavyweight and heavyweight championships at one point and Couture having multiple title reigns while bouncing between weight classes.
Light heavyweights that have gone up to fight Rothwell typically haven’t been as successful. Back in 2013, he scored a third-round TKO of veteran Brandon Vera, and during his International Fight League days he scored a pair of wins over future UFC fighter Krzysztof Szoszynski, including a 13-second KO.
Rothwell thinks most light heavyweights see themselves as having a speed advantage when tangling with the big boys, and that could make all the difference.
“Technically, from what I can see, it’s why Curtis Blaydes is having so much success,” Rothwell said. “I feel like it’s a wrestling, it’s a jiu-jitsu thing. A lot of the heavyweights it’s the old rule of, ‘First heavyweight to get a takedown wins the fight’ – that was the old saying back in early 2000. I don’t know if much has changed. You’ve got your couple of guys that are okay, but I think for the most part it’s a speed factor. The guys at 220, 230, feel like they have an advantage, they can go up or down.
“Look at what Randy Couture did. He was really good at getting his takedowns, he’d wear guys down, he could beat the bigger guy, and I think some of that stands true. But you’ve got guys you’ve got to be careful with at heavyweight. There’s always the power factor. I think all the heavyweights down the board bring a danger factor that doesn’t exist in any other weight class.”
One name that has yet to take the plunge into heavyweight waters despite teasing a move for years is light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. “Bones” has said himself that he’s respectful of the kind of power he’d be dealing with should he move up, but Rothwell is confident Jones’s skills would translate even dealing with heavier opponents.
When it comes down to it, Rothwell still believes a fight as a fight.
“I think wherever Jon Jones fights, he’s Jon Jones,” Rothwell said. “He’s gonna bring a lot of hype. The guy has skills that can win anywhere. I feel like guys like Tony Ferguson, Khabib [Nurmagomedov], these guys can win, they can beat guys bigger than them. I feel like this kind of exists everywhere. I think that’s something that Fedor [Emelianenko] always showed over the years. It doesn’t matter your size. If you’re a badass, you’re gonna win a fight.
“If somebody pushes your wife down in front of you, are you gonna go, ‘Oh, what’s your weight class? Gimme a couple of weeks to get ready.’ No, you fight. That’s what a real fighter does. They’ll win wherever against whoever it is.”