“Wednesday becomes the new Saturday,” Ben Rothwell said Monday, at the UFC Jacksonville media day.
The veteran heavyweight hasn’t really been thrown for a loop by the changes to fight week, it seems. The weekday card is an anomaly, of course, all about the UFC making up for lost time due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As part of that effort, “Big” Ben Rothwell (37-12) will throw done with Ovince Saint Pruex. If that name comes as a surprise, it’s because “OSP” has historically fought at light heavyweight. He even competed against Jon Jones for an interim title there.
Rothwell wasn’t shocked at a light heavyweight moving up, so much as which one jumped in to take the fight. “I was already scheduled to fight a former light heavyweight moving up, and you’re seeing more of that,” he said, referring to Gian Villante. Villante and Rothwell were expected to compete in April. “But OSP the name just kind of came out of nowhere. Because I had two fights set up. I had signed a contract to fight a heavyweight, then within a week or so they said because of circumstances, he was out. They dropped this name.” Of course, given the circumstances, any name the promotion threw at Rothwell was going to come as a surprise.
Of course, he understands the circumstances, and that the lack of a weight cut makes heavyweight an appealing destination on short notice. “[OSP] is a big guy. A lot of the light heavyweights are naturally heavyweights. It is what it is. For me, it’s a better name. My first opponent, we were on the undercard. Now, OSP comes in, I’m co-main event. So good things to it, too.”
All the better for “Big” Ben, who has had to deal with the temporary closure of his gym during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The gym has been hard. All of our members have been like ‘oh we can’t wait to open again,'” Rothwell answered when asked about the toll the closure has taken on him. “It’s going on all around the country. Everybody’s dealing with it. For me personally, the fact that I own a gym I think gives me an advantage. I know some fighters have said they can’t train for a fight because their coach won’t open a gym. Yeah. I sit back and go ‘really happy I own my own gym,’ because I get to call the shots.”
Training at the gym hasn’t changed too much, given “a lot of things that we do are under the ten people limit anyways. So we were able to get together and kind of keep things as normal as we could.”
Shopping and eating are where the bigger changes came, said Rothwell. “We had to make strategic changes” on those fronts, he explained. “To say things are normal would be crazy. Obviously we’ve had to make changes. But I’m blessed that I was able to keep things in a good situation for myself.”
Getting back to work during a pandemic, admitted the heavyweight, “It’s been a roller coaster, because of what’s going on around the world and how it’s been handled. But hat’s off to the UFC, they’re just doing an outstanding job of keeping everybody safe, and making this thing safe for everybody. They’re doing the best they can. Obviously things can happen that are out of anybody’s control, but right now it’s a good situation, and I’m definitely happy to be fighting.”
Things did happen under a week ago, when Jacare Souza tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of his fight at UFC 249 over the weekend. Hopefully, there will be no repeat over the next few days. Because as Rothwell would point out, for some fighters, time is the enemy.
“Especially us older guys, it’s a big deal. Time in against us. So to get these opportunities, it’s huge,” Rothwell added. “It’s a welcome experience.”