“This is blood for blood and by the gallons,” says Ben Rothwell, a 6’5’’ 265-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. “Every day in our gym he goes head to head with the Tim Sylvia's and the Matt Hughes' and he has learned to take it and give it back and constantly get better.”
“Every challenge we give him,” Miletich continues, “work on your kicking, your grappling, your flexibility, he does. He stays late and arrives early and adjusts to whomever is in the gym or the ring. He never backs down from a challenge, and as the competition in the IFL has improved so has he. He is fun to coach and is a solid student."
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—in high school he ran a 4.6 40, a quarter mile in the low 50’s 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.”
Rothwell isn’t the only IFL star who could give the UFC’s best a run for their money. Keep your eye on lightweight Chris “the Polish Hammer” Horodecki of the Los Angeles Anacondas. The youngest IFL fighter at 19, this native of London, Ontario has a boyish face that looks like it’s never needed a shave. His features belie the fact he’s a tenacious striker that’s now 10-0 in the league.
On June 1, he won a three-round decision over Shad Lierley of the Tiger Sharks, in a knock-down drag ‘em out affair that nearly gave commentator and MMA legend Bas Rutten a conniption. Having witnessed almost all of the IFL’s matches to date, I’d say this was the best fight in the league’s brief history. It was MMA’s answer to Gatti-Ward.
On August 2, at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, NJ, the IFL’s semifinals will take place. Both Horodecki and Rothwell will be competing that night in their respective divisions.
The finals will take place on September 20 at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fl.
IFF cards are not shown live, so stay tuned for the upcoming TV dates, which will be shown on FSN and MyNetworkTV.