Story By Ben Fowlkes<!-- InstanceEndEditable --> <!-- InstanceBeginEditable name="Professional Fighting News" -->
Ben Rothwell isn’t happy. He should be, but he isn’t. He’s upset. He’s worried. Despite his tremendous success – his ten-fight win streak and his undefeated run in the IFL – he’s a worrier. He’s a 265-pound Woody Allen. Even when things are going well, he manages to find something to be unhappy about. He can’t help it.
Take his last fight, for example. He stood toe-to-toe with the Lions’ Roy Nelson for three rounds, trading highlight reel punches en route to a decision victory for himself and much-needed team win for the Silverbacks. That might be enough to make most men at least a little satisfied with themselves. Not Rothwell. The fact that the fight even went to a decision was enough to spoil it for him.
“I’ve never won by decision like that,” he says now, looking back on the fight. “Not that I think I lost. I don’t. I thought it was close at first, but when I watched the tape I thought I definitely won. But since it went to a decision like that it didn’t feel like a real win.”
It’s a strange way of putting it: a real win. Most fighters will take the wins any way they can get them. Particularly after the show that Rothwell and Nelson put on that night, it would be hard for most guys to find anything to be dissatisfied with. Then again, they aren’t Rothwell.
They don’t live in his world, where nothing is ever quite good enough, where everything has to be perfect. And it’s because they don’t live in that world that they aren’t as successful as he is.
That kind of perfectionism – the kind tinged with pessimism – is a sword that cuts two ways. In one sense, it prevents Rothwell from really enjoying his own rise to fame in the fighting world. But in another, it’s what keeps him there. It’s what stops him from resting on his laurels, and it’s what makes him so unswervingly focused on what he’s done wrong rather than what he’s done right.
“I’ve been doing well and people have noticed,” he says. “But in my mind, I’m not happy. People think I’m just a stand-up guy and if it goes to the ground I’m in trouble, but that’s not true.”
“I have really good ground-and-pound, but I just haven’t shown it. I haven’t taken people down like I can. I don’t know why. It’s a mental block. You get one track. You just get too focused on doing this one thing and then it’s easier for people to go up against you. It took that fight [with Roy Nelson] for me to realize it.”
It’s not often you hear top fighters complaining about always winning their matches with the same skill set. But for Rothwell, winning doesn’t seem to be enough. He is aspiring to an ideal. He even has a name for this ideal: the North Star.
“It’s something I look up to. The North Star has a lot of meaning to me. It’s a symbol of a complete fighter who can do everything. That’s what I realized I wasn’t doing before. This is mixed martial arts. It isn’t just about punching and kicking. It’s everything. That’s what the North Star symbolizes. It’s the way Fedor [Emelienenko] fights. It’s what a true fighter should be.”
Looking up to an ideal like that, it’s easy to see why Rothwell isn’t content. If there’s one thing we know about ideals, it’s that they are impossible to reach. Any man who aims for perfection is bound to be disappointed. Then again, any man who doesn’t is unlikely to find great success. Such is Rothwell’s dilemma, of which he seems acutely aware.
At the moment Rothwell is standing at a bit of a crossroads. Having established himself as the man to beat in the IFL’s heavyweight class, it seems as if there isn’t anywhere to go but down. His next fight, against MMA veteran Travis Fulton in Chicago on May 19th, is a good example.
Rothwell is expected to win this fight, just as he is expected to win any subsequent rematches against other IFL fighters he’s bested in the past.
“It’s a constant uphill battle,” he says. “Like our team. We won the championship, and the hill only got steeper. No team in the IFL has fought as much as we have. Now if I could rematch Dan Christison and make up for that loss, that would be good. But even if I knock him out in the first round people will say, ‘So what?’ If I beat somebody I’ve already beaten, like Krzysztof [Soszynski], they’ll say, ‘So what?’”
“I’m going to have to beat somebody nobody thinks I can beat. That’s what it’s going to take, and I think I have the skills to beat anyone. Not every fighter can say that.”
In fact, there are very few fighters who can say it. Rothwell certainly can, not that it brings him any pleasure to do so. No matter what he does or what heights he reaches, he seems like a man who won’t ever be content. He has to find flaws in his own performances. He has to look for ways to improve.
If he didn’t, maybe Rothwell could rest for a moment and enjoy the ride he’s on. But that just wouldn’t be him. The trap of perfectionism that he’s ensnared in may keep him from being content, but it’s also what keeps him on top.
The North Star would accept nothing less.<!-- InstanceEndEditable -->