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UFC 104:

Ben Rothwell not alone in UFC debut

Rothwell one of four fighters who prepared for UFC 104 in under Duke Roufus

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Justin M. Bowen

Ben Rothwell and Cain Velasquez face off during a pre-fight press conference Thursday at the Westside Pavilion Mall in Los Angeles. The two will headline Saturday’s fight at the Staples Center.

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Ben Rothwell addresses the media during a UFC pre-fight press conference Thursday at the Westside Pavilion Mall in Los Angeles. Rothwell with fight Cain Velasquez on Saturday night at the Staples Center.

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Nearly every serious mixed martial artist in the United States has at least heard of striking coach Duke Roufus and his training facility in Milwaukee, Wis.

Given the fact that Ben Rothwell is from Kenosha, Wis., it was a given that he was aware of the trainer and his family’s history.

Despite living just 30 minutes away from Roufus’s camp, Rothwell says he never seriously considered training in Milwaukee until he suffered the first knockout loss of his career in 2003 at the hands of Carlos Barreto.

“Right after that loss I made the decision to train with him,” Rothwell said. “At the time I thought I had good standup, but training with Duke changed my whole career. I had been fighting with more of a wrestler, ground-and-pound style and after training with Duke, I started knocking guys out. Guys even started labeling me as a kickboxer.”

Rothwell went on to finish 12 opponents straight, eight by either TKO or knockout, and the relationship between fighter and trainer had been set.

Six years later, Rothwell is finally making a long-anticipated UFC debut against Cain Velasquez in the heavyweight division with Roufus following him to Los Angeles to direct him to victory.

In addition to the improvements Rothwell has made as a fighter, Roufus says that by not jumping into the UFC too soon, he is more prepared mentally to make a run in the organization than he ever has been.

“I think he’s learned to accept the role of a primetime fighter. He’s used to the big show now,” Roufus said. “He’s understanding the magnitude of what it takes to fight in front of God and everybody. He’s the most relaxed and chill Ben I’ve ever seen.”

Making Rothwell feel even more comfortable in his debut could be the fact he won’t be the only Roufus student to compete within the Octagon inside Staples Center on Saturday night.

Heavyweight Pat Barry and light heavyweights Eric Schafer and Razak Al-Hassan all prepared for the UFC 104 card in Milwaukee alongside Rothwell.

The team’s bond became so strong in training for the event that Roufus had T-shirts made for the fighters, describing them as the "the four horsemen" of his gym.

“It’s been a magical atmosphere — four guys all striving for the same goal,” Roufus said. “It was a really good camp. All the guys accentuated one another. I was very proud of all the guys.”

While it was certainly beneficial for all four fighters to work with training partners who could match their intensity, it may have been the best for Rothwell.

During his impressive 9-0 run as a fighter in the International Fight League from 2006 to 2007, Rothwell consistently trained with four partners who were usually fighting on the same card he was.

His training camp for this fight was the first time since then he’s had the same opportunity.

“In the IFL I had four teammates that always got ready with me, so I kind of got used to getting ready as a group,” Rothwell said. “It was nice having that again. It was a good experience overall.”

The team may have its work cut out for it as not a single one is favored to win his bout. Both Barry and Al-Hassan enter as even money. Rothwell opened as a 3-to-1 underdog while Schafer is 5-to-1.

That hasn’t done anything to lower the optimism of Roufus, who believes each of his fighters has a game plan capable of winning the fight.

Preparing a group of fighters for an event is nothing new to Roufus, although he admits it is for an event as big as a UFC pay-per-view.

“I’ve been involved with boxing, kickboxing and Muay Thai, so I regularly take 10 kids to a single fight. But this is on a bigger scale,” Roufus said. “These guys have been great. They’ve all taken turns being the leader.”

Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected].

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