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Ben Rothwell fires back at critics of bare-knuckle fighting: ‘MMA is so much more dangerous’


With just a single bare-knuckle fight on his resume and a second scheduled on Saturday at BKFC 41, Ben Rothwell is finally having fun again.

After spending 20 years competing in MMA, the now 41-year-old heavyweight left the UFC to sign a deal with BKFC and his career has been rejuvenated but it has nothing to do with wins or losses. Instead, Rothwell points to the amount of punishment his body is no longer enduring to train, prepare and compete in MMA, which definitely took a toll on him.

Of course, Rothwell has heard plenty of fans and journalists call bare-knuckle fighting far too brutal but he’s quick to shut down the criticism, especially in comparison to MMA.

“I understand people are like ‘oh bare knuckle!’ They don’t realize how dangerous MMA is,” Rothwell told MMA Fighting. “It’s funny because it’s MMA fans who are talking smack to some of the guys on the card with me, talking about CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and all this and that.

“Do you guys not realize what a shin to the head will do to somebody or an elbow? All the risk that goes into the wrestling, landing on an arm wrong, submissions that go wrong. MMA is so much more dangerous and not to take away, [bare-knuckle fighting] is dangerous but that’s combat sports.”

A study conducted over two and a half years and 131 fights that was presented at the Association of Boxing Commissions in 2021 showed that bare-knuckle fighting produced a higher rate of facial lacerations but the concussion rate was lower than both MMA and boxing.

Now Rothwell understands that there are also a rabid part of the fanbase that wants to see those relentless, bloody wars that bare-knuckle fighting can often provide but that doesn’t mean the sport still isn’t the safer overall option.

“There’s people that tune in because it is so brutal,” Rothwell said. “I want those people to know it’s brutal, yeah somebody’s going to be bleeding, get messed up. I want you to watch. It’s just a bunch of people, I’m trying to be nice here, I feel like they’re going to complain about everything. It’s just something to complain about. It’s whatever. I’m having a good time with this.”

Obviously, Rothwell understands the risks involved with his new occupation at BKFC but he only needs to look as far as his own recent training camps to understand the vast difference between his current gig and his old job in MMA.

According to Rothwell, his career trajectory was likely cruising towards retirement in MMA simply due to the sheer amount of punishment his body endured in preparation for his fights. The damage done had nothing to do with actually setting foot in the cage to do battle but rather the daily grind to get ready for those fights really began to chip away at him.

“The training for the last year, my body is like thank you,” Rothwell explained. “I have a far higher output. I’m able to box for an hour, no problem and then I’m training the next morning and having no problems.

“When I was doing MMA and doing a wrestling practice — a hard wrestling practice — I was f****** ended for days. My body hurt. That’s without even getting an injury. There’s a lot of things about this that have given me a lot of positives so it’s definitely given me some more years to fight.”

Rothwell is also quick to point out that fighters don’t get compensated for training camps — only the fights — but that’s undoubtedly where he racked up the most mileage on his body.

“We’re not getting paid for that,” Rothwell said. “It’s brutal and at our level how hard we have to train for MMA, it’s brutal.”

Rothwell says he’s feeling better than ever these days and that joy from training for his bare-knuckle fights has injected a new level of enthusiasm about his future.

He knows the day will come when he has to call it a career but making the move to BKFC likely gave him a few more years on the fight calendar and that’s just not something he could have said prior to his transition into bare-knuckle competition.

“People ask ‘when are you going to retire?’” Rothwell said. “I’m 41. When are you going to retire? That’s not up to me because as long as I have this fire inside of me to do this and do it like I’m doing it, I’m going to go. Yes, that day is going to come someday. There’s a day when I will be done but it’s not today and I wish to accomplish this goal I set for myself until that day comes.

“That clock you’re talking about is ticking no matter what. Whatever I’m doing as far as my athletics in combat sports but for sure, 100 percent, it was going faster doing MMA. That day was coming way sooner than it is now. That’s why I’m excited.”

As far as those goals, Rothwell isn’t ready to reveal any long term plans with a fight just a few days away but rest assured, he’s not lost on the kind of opportunities that could be waiting for him in the future.

BKFC has made a major financial investment in signing high profile names and booking cards that draw a lot of attention and Rothwell is elated to be part of it.

“The objective’s simple — win,” Rothwell said. “All things will be accomplished and I’ll get the goals I need to succeed because I have some things, some high goals set for myself. Getting the BKFC title isn’t just there. There’s something past that but none of that matters if I don’t keep winning. So for me, it’s is all about winning. Winning is fun. That’s how I have fun.

“I believe I have a lot left to show that I’m not getting credit for. When I’m done and I walk away, I want people go ‘wow that man was one of the most brutal heavyweights on the planet.’ I know some people are there [already] but there’s a whole bunch that aren’t and all of it is my fault. I haven’t shown what I’m capable of and this is my opportunity to do so.”

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