Almost three years passed between losses to Junior dos Santos and Blagoy Ivanov for Ben Rothwell, who returns to the Octagon, this time after only four months, against Andrei Arlovski at Fight Night San Antonio this Saturday.
What transpired for Rothwell during those 35 months was both dark and harrowing.
The 37-year-old tested positive for an anabolic androgenic steroid of exogenous origin in out-of-competition tests conducted on February 6, 2017, and February 15, 2017.
Rothwell protested against the sanctions, but ultimately accepted a two-year suspension from USADA, especially considering it was made clear to him that if he tried to fight the ruling, they would make the ban longer.
“I was going through medical problems, I was being treated by doctors and USADA didn’t agree with the treatments and for 15 months we fought,” Rothwell told the TSN MMA Show. “I had two board certified endocrinologists, I had a Wisconsin State Athletic Commission doctor all fighting with USADA about my medical condition. The first TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption), they came back, the doctors rebutted everything and USADA came up with a whole other set of reasons of what was wrong and they rebutted those too and they just said ‘you know what, this is how it is and if you want to go to arbitration, we’re going to give you a four-year suspension.”
As Rothwell got closer to time served, it became less and less worth it for him to fight the anti-doping organization. He was however put off by the fact that USADA wouldn’t make it clear that things were done through doctors and that he wasn’t trying to cheat.
“No they don’t care about that, they don’t care about anything, they just smash guys when they can, burn us at the stake as Josh Barnett said,” said Rothwell. “That’s why for Josh Barnett to step up and do what he did and win in arbitration, it was a really big thing, but the timing was really bad because I would’ve gone to arbitration a month later and I knew they weren’t going to let that happen again. Everything was just kind of against me and I just said, I’m going to get through this. I don’t get happy about much, but I’m happy to be fighting again.”
Barnett took USADA to arbitration and received no punishment for testing positive for a banned substance after his legal team was able to prove that the positive result was caused by a tainted supplement.
As for Rothwell, while he’s happy to be back doing what he loves on a regular basis again, he admits the entire process impacted him negatively.
“The whole thing was a mental health issue and just to not get any help and not be allowed to get any help,” said Rothwell. “I mean therapists were writing to USADA saying it’s unethical for us to treat him when he has a physical condition and they would just send emails back, no phone calls. It was pretty brutal, a pretty brutal time.”
“I really just didn’t really have anything to say because I have a different mentality. A lot of people said, I need to go out and say something, all the liars in my life, they are the ones out preaching and deny, deny, deny to till you die. I’m not going to say anything because I don’t need to deny anything.”
The Kenosha, Wisconsin native credits his gym, Rothwell Mixed Martial Arts, with helping him get through the worst times.
“I was thankful for it before everything happened, getting through the last three years was only because of that gym,” said Rothwell. “All the great people that come there and the lives that we’ve been able to affect and change, the kids that we’ve helped. It’s a pretty amazing place, it’s got my name on it, but I would call it something else if I could so that everyone knew it was there because of them and that’s what makes it such an awesome place.”
Rothwell will face Arlovski at AT&T Center on Saturday, 11 years after the pair first met at Affliction: Banned, a fight that ended in a KO victory for the Belarusian.
“I’m a completely different fighter,” said Rothwell. “I was a boy when he fought me the first time and I feel like now I’ve come into my own. Even with my layoff from my last fight, I’m still trying to figure things out, I can honestly say I feel better than I ever have before.”
Despite the fact that the fighters have already thrown hands once, there is no bad blood between Rothwell and the former UFC heavyweight champion.
“He’s always there to fight, I don’t know if Andrei has ever pulled out of a fight with an injury,” said Rothwell. "(He’s) a really stand up mixed martial artists and obviously a guy that I’ve had a past with. Always complimentary to him too, because every time we’re outside fighting, he’s a super cool guy and this is just two mixed martial artists that have to go out and put on a great show and show the world what the heavyweights can do.”
Rothwell will enter the Octagon on a two-fight losing streak, though he vehemently disagreed with the unanimous decision loss that was handed to him on March 9 in Wichita, Kansas in his bout against Ivanov.
“Upset is probably one of the emotions, some of the worst judging around,” said Rothwell. “I’m pretty confident I had most of the media, 18 media sites all said I won the fight. The facts are, I out struck him 2-to-1 in the third round and two of the judges gave it to him, it makes no sense whatsoever. All three judges had a different scorecard. I don’t know if that blows your mind, but how do three judges all have different scorecards?
“It’s unreal and that’s why, I’ve said it for 20 years, you don’t let it go to the judges. The guy had a tough chin and I needed a fourth round, I believe if there was a fourth round, I would’ve finished the fight."