HOBOKEN, N.J. -- Early in his professional mixed martial arts career, Ben Rothwell received some advice from a newly crowned UFC heavyweight champion in Josh Barnett.
“He was just a kid then looking up to me,” Barnett said of meeting Rothwell. “Well now, he’s no longer a kid and he’s not coming for advice, he’s coming to take my head off.”
With 85 professional fights between them, their paths will finally cross again, this time at UFC on Fox 18 in Newark on Saturday. Rothwell (35-9, 5-3 UFC) is riding a three-fight win streak, while Barnett (34-7, 6-2 UFC) is hoping to stay hot after returning from a 20-month layoff.
“He was training with Matt Hume at the time and was just talking about some of the training they were doing at the time,” Rothwell said of his encounter with Barnett. “I bet you everything they said then, he’d probably be like, ‘Oh, we don’t do any of that now.’”
While Rothwell looked up to Barnett 14 years ago, he doesn’t feel the slightest bit inferior in 2016.
“That’s all kind of history to me now,” Rothwell said. “I’m 34 and he’s working on 38, and he’s had some time in here before me but I’ve been doing this just as long as he has, it’s just I’ve got four years less of damage.”
With significantly more fights behind these men than ahead of them, both are hoping to make one final run at the belt, a chance that nearly presented itself out of thin air last week.
When the main event for what was scheduled to be UFC 196 began falling apart because of injuries to challenger Cain Velasquez and champion Fabricio Werdum, both Barnett and Rothwell threw their hats in the rings to save the pay-per-view.
Both would have been ready to go for a Feb. 6 fight against Stipe Miocic, potentially for an interim title. But the UFC instead chose to move a scheduled welterweight fight between Johny Hendricks and Stephen Thompson to the main event and take the card off pay-per-view.
“We had already been told by the men that call the shots that too much time and money had been invested into this show, nothing was going to change of it,” Rothwell said.
While Barnett, who staged a professional wrestling match during his open workout, made an impassioned speech to fans saying he doesn’t cry about injuries and pull out of fights, a clear shot at Velasquez and Werdum, he later told the media that situation isn’t his problem and that he was staying focused on what was in front of him.
“You know what has to do with me?” Barnett asked. “Winning fights.”