Ben Rothwell acknowledges that UFC 115 opponent Gilbert Yvel seems to have cleaned up his act since he began fighting in the U.S., but that’s not what comes to mind first when he hears Yvel’s name.
“I see tattoos. I see eye gouging. I see kicks to the nuts. I see a referee getting knocked out,” Rothwell said Monday on the Sherdog Radio Network’s Savage Dog Show.
The 6-foot-4, 265-pound heavyweight kept struggling to find a single descriptor for Yvel, whose bad boy reputation is well-documented and well-earned. He has been disqualified three times for infractions including slugging a referee, biting and eye gouging. The last incident was in November 2004, but Yvel likely won’t shed the negative label anytime soon.
“He seems to have really cleaned up his act since coming to the States,” Rothwell said. “I think he knows. He’s made a living from the sport. Overseas I think he was a little bit different. If he was in Japan, they kind of get off on that kind of thing. If he’s in Holland, it’s kind of like it was a big free for all. He came to the States, and there’s a commission. This is a sport: They don’t put up with that.”
Both Yvel and Rothwell are coming off losses in their UFC debuts to fast-rising heavyweights. Junior dos Santos stopped Yvel in the first round of their Jan. 2 matchup at UFC 108. Cain Velasquez derailed Rothwell in the second round of their October 2009 fight at UFC 104.
Both men also like to fight on the feet, a fact that could make their main card contest an intriguing encounter Saturday at the GM Place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Although Yvel is a dangerous striker, Rothwell said he has prepared for him by training with top-notch kickboxers like Patrick Barry at the Duke Roufus Academy in Milwaukee. As an example, Rothwell cited how Roufus’ camp had prepped him last year when he had been scheduled to fight Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic.
“I had like three, four Cro Cops when I was getting ready for him. It was pretty funny -- all throwing left kicks at me,” Rothwell said. “I must have blocked well over a thousand left head kicks.”
Rothwell has been training with Roufus since 2003, though his base camp had long been Pat Miletich’s school in Davenport, Iowa. He did not train in Iowa for his upcoming bout.
“I did have to leave Iowa. … I lost training partners,” he said. “It was out of Pat’s control.”
Rothwell made a point to express his respect for Miletich, but he also said the Iowa-based team is not what it used to be.
“Something that’s built up to be an empire, it’s like Rome -- it can’t be that way forever,” he said. “At one time, yeah, it was looked at as one of the greatest gyms of all time. It had (Matt) Hughes, and Jens (Pulver) was knocking people out. Tim (Sylvia) had the (UFC heavyweight) belt. Jeremy Horn was there. And then we were kind of like the second phase with the whole IFL. That was kind of the beginning of the end, I think. We had our little spurt, but it wasn’t UFC level and then it just kind of diminished. Things happen. I don’t think there’s blame (on) anybody. It just happened that way.”
Rothwell said it wouldn’t have mattered if the Miletich team was as strong as ever: He had to leave for personal reasons. His daughter recently turned 8, and traveling between Wisconsin and Iowa just wasn’t working anymore.
“I drove back and forth every weekend to be with her, but that just wasn’t enough,” he said. “I have to be here more for her.”
At the same time, Rothwell has to keep training and improving. For this bout he also enlisted the help of Matt Hume, who’s known for having groomed Josh Barnett among many others.
“The guy is, when you talk to him, he is like a wizard,” Rothwell said. “I don’t know how to explain it. He is a very smart guy. He’s all about martial arts, and I really liked him a lot.”
Hume will be in Rothwell’s corner against Yvel, an opponent Rothwell eventually figured out how to describe after a review of Yvel’s fouls.
“Crazy,” Rothwell finally concluded. “I’ll give him that: He’s crazy.”