UFC Fight Island 5: Ben Rothwell on 51st Fight, Unrest In Hometown of Kenosha

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Ben Rothwell is on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi this week. It’s another adventure in a lengthy career, perhaps one of the craziest given the circumstances.

“Another notch on the good old 51-fight belt. It’ll be my 51st fight coming up. So here we go. I got to add another piece to my passport,” Rothwell (38-12) noted during this week’s UFC Fight Island 5 media day. Unfortunately, “Big” Ben hasn’t had a chance to experience the beauty of Abu Dhabi, being quarantined in the host hotel. And, of course, being focused on opponent Marcin Tybura.

Rothwell, however, is entering the fight off a pair of wins, most recently against light heavyweight Ovince St. Preux, who decided to try his hand a division up. Rothwell performed well enough to earn a split decision win in the bout, but couldn’t find the stoppage he was looking for.

“I’ve got to stop holding back,” he said of the OSP fight, and the lessons learned from it. “I’m known for finishes, and that fight, my training camp was really messed up. I was going through a lot. It’s a fight I should finish. I’ve got to stop being hesitant.”

That’s something he’ll look to correct against Tybura. As to what makes the Polish fighter dangerous, Rothwell stated simply that “he’s a heavyweight.” Enough said.

Kenosha, WI was the scene of the Jacob Blake shooting, the latest controversy in a string of police shootings in America that has led to the worst civil unrest in decades. It’s also a city that Ben Rothwell calls home. He had a bird’s eye view of what amounted to a small uprising in August, stating at one point on social media that “my whole city is on fire.”

The shooting of Blake, who had a warrant for third-degree sexual assault and had been the subject of a 9-1-1 call alleging that he was attempting to steal a car during an altercation between two women, re-ignited an already volatile public incensed over police shootings of unarmed black citizens in America. Although Blake later admitted to being armed with a knife, the fact that he was shot seven times in the back is essentially inexcusable. The ensuing riots in Kenosha, which began before the investigation into the incident was out of its infancy, made a bad situation worse.

“I don’t want to say the community is shattered, because that’s how it felt at first,” said Rothwell, reflecting on the mood at home, “but I feel like things are coming around. People really got together to help each other, and I think people started to realize that most of the damage and carnage was created by outsiders.” That realization came about when police “were able to start releasing [the names of] a lot of the people arrested, they came from out of state, came from different cities. So people started to put the pieces together,” added Rothwell.

The longtime heavyweight has been preaching unity throughout, an unwelcome message in divisive times, apparently. “I was kind of in the middle getting ripped to shreds by both sides, because I love people on both sides. And we needed to come together, not point fingers. That’s what Kenosha’s all about,” Rothwell stated.

“I feel like we’re getting through,” he added. Rothwell noted that in his gym, which he called “his little bubble” where he’s spent the last decade, anyone who comes through the door is judged independently of where they work or what they’ve done. “We come in there to help each other, and it’s a beautiful thing. I wish more of the world could be like mixed martial artists, maybe we’d have more world peace in this place.”

Watch the full UFC Fight Island 5 virtual press scrum with Ben Rothwell above. The event airs live this Saturday, October 10 on ESPN+ (TSN in Canada).

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