“This is blood for blood and by the gallons,” says Ben Rothwell, a 6’5’’ 280-pound mixed martial artist who has been terrorizing the competition in the International Fight League (IFL), which is elbowing the colossal UFC for some mat-time. “This is the old days, the bad days, the all-or-nothing days.”
Rothwell is just quoting his favorite line from Sin City. But after seeing him kick someone in the temple before you could flinch, or submit another poor soul with a gogoplata—a Jiu-Jitsu submission a Norwegian fisherman couldn’t untie—you’d believe this hard-bitten dialogue was written in his honor.
Undefeated in the IFL (four KOs, two submissions, one decision) and 25-5 overall, Rothwell’s ring exploits and outsized personality have made him the de facto poster-boy of this burgeoning MMA organization, which gets play on FOX’s FSN and MyNetworkTV.
The 25-year-old from Kenosha, Wisconsin is a member of the Quad City Silverbacks—the two-year-old IFL has a team format with squads from New York to Tokyo. He’s coached by master builder of champions Pat Miletich and trains with UFC products Tim Sylvia, Matt Hughes and Jens Pulver.
“I think Ben is world class right now, as good as anyone in MMA” says Miletich, a straight shooter who showers such praise on few of his students—the ones who’ve proven it either in the UFC or Pride.
That Rothwell’s prime is a few years off bodes well for him. But the IFL, which hopes to retain his services for years to come, will need to keep feeding this fair-haired gorilla bigger helpings of proverbial bananas.
“We don’t know how good Ben is,” says Sherdog.com’s Josh Gross. “He hasn’t faced the type of competition that would be a good indicator of exactly how far he can go.” But Ben has all the tools, Gross adds, and represents a new breed of supersized, athletic heavyweight—he ran a 4.6 in high school and had Florida State drooling—with genuine skill.
“Our fighters can shine within a team format and individually,” says the IFL’s CEO Gareb Shamus. “We’re creating opportunities for them to get an enormous amount of exposure on free and free network TV. MMA is generally relegated to pay-per-view. We’re building a lot of major stars, and Ben has certainly emerged as our true heavyweight champion. “
“He finishes fights decisively,” Shamus continues. “With his feet, his knees, his fists or by submission. He’s not afraid to get angry or excited or lift up a teammate. When he’s there, you can feel his presence. He’s a big guy and he can make a lot of noise. And it’s not just fake noise, because he really cares. Because you know what? He lives, eats, breaths and trains with these guys.”
“There’s no choices left,” Ben exclaims, once again quoting Sin City. “And I’m ready for war.”
* * *
He's 6-foot-5, 265 pounds and has squashed 11 straight mixed-martial arts opponents. So it's no surprise to hear Ben Rothwell talk about MMA and say, "This is blood for blood and by the gallon" or some other hokey line from his favorite movie, "Sin City."
What you wouldn't expect to hear from the International Fight League star is his original recipe for strawberry salad or his best "cheat meal" (a Philly cheesesteak). Turns out the wannabe chef, born to two restaurant owners, can talk a big game about the kitchen, too. "I can do anything with any kind of white fish, but my Parmesan orange roughy is really good," Rothwell says. "People who don't like fish like it."
With his unbeaten two-year run and spicy personality, the 25-year-old Rothwell is just what the upstart IFL ordered: a marketable star to help compete against the UFC. The IFL, consisting of 12 teams of five fighters each (one for each weight class), continues to snag strong ratings for MyNetworkTV and Fox Sports Network. About two million viewers per week watch IFL fights, led by Monday night's Battleground series.
A big hunk of that success belongs to well-known coaches such as UFC vets Matt Lindland, Pat Miletich and the Shamrock brothers, Ken and Frank. But ultimately, the IFL needs fighters like Rothwell to boil over. And he just might do it. He's 25-5 (7-0 for the IFL's Quad City Silverbacks), with cement fists (14 KOs) and a ground game that has earned 10 submission wins. "Ben is world-class right now," Miletich says. "He's as good as anybody in MMA."
The only knock on Rothwell: He hasn't had to prove himself against UFC-level opponents. "We don't know how good he is," says Josh Gross, a columnist for MMA site Sherdog.com (which is a partner of ESPN.com).
But the IFL is hoping to answer that question with this summer's four-team playoffs, a format that will allow the league to showcase some of its biggest stars. Rothwell tops that list. "He finishes fights decisively, with his feet, knees, fists or by submission," says IFL CEO Gareb Shamus. "He can make a lot of noise."
And a pretty mean Chicken Oscar, too.