Glacial Improvements: Ben Rothwell vs. Andrei Arlovski

Ben Rothwell
(Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Heavyweight is an interesting division. Fighters tend to have one or two glaring holes in their game, then they add strengths around them. Or, they never change and stick to what makes them great.

On July 20th, 2019, aged heavyweights Andrei Arlovski and Ben Rothwell look to clash for a second time. Their last fight was in 2008, when Arlovski was heralded as a heavyweight striking god and Rothwell was the plodding giant.

I’m going to discuss how glacial improvements will determine why Rothwell will likely win the rematch against Arlovski.

Andrei Arlovski vs. Ben Rothwell (Affliction, 2008)

In 2008, Rothwell was riding a 13-fight win streak and Arlovski had just left the UFC for a better payday. Arlovski at the time was the better athlete and it carried his limited game.

In the wise words of my editor Ed Gallo in regards to Arlovski, “He punch with one hand.” The name of the game for Arlovski was always spamming his right hand in various angles. It was simple, but for the heavyweight division, it was enough to be the best.

Arlovski vs. Rothwell 1: right straight, right uppercut, right hook. Rinse and repeat
Arlovski, 7 years later. The same combination of right hands with his head straight up in the air.
Arlovski in his most recent fight. The same charge, less speed though.

It was clear that Rothwell had a disadvantage in the athleticism department as he was a constant mark for the right hand. Rothwell also stood out in range, tentative, waiting on Arlovski to make mistakes allowed Arlovski to charge at him, throwing right hands.

Rothwell constantly backed up or stood directly in front of Arlovski. This gave plenty of time for Arlovski to take breaks between his barrage of right-handed combinations.

Rothwell would be exhausted after being hurt multiple times, Arlovski finished him in the third. Their first fight showed that Rothwell had a glaring speed issue, at the very least, and needed to patch it up.

More standing around and waiting got Rothwell knocked out as a result.

Heavyweight Improvements

Heavyweights tend to hit their peaks far later than other divisions. This means for Rothwell, who started out in MMA in 2001, he had 18 years of time to improve. However, at heavyweight, those improvements usually happen at a glacial pace.

After the Arlovski knockout, Rothwell would go on a win-loss streak, losing to Cain Velasquez, Mark Hunt, and Gabriel Gonzaga. However, he was changing. Against Brandon Vera, Rothwell was far more aggressive and pursued Vera from the opening bell.

From the get-go Rothwell was looking to come forwards and pressure Vera.
The Foreman Comparison

Now is a good time to explicate Rothwell’s style. The best comparison you could make is George Foreman for MMA. Rothwell is a tall man and tends to stand upright, however, his hands are constantly protruding outwards.

Notice how far his hands are from his chin.
Foreman kept his arms constantly outward, in an effort to keep the smaller Frazier from coming in.

Regardless of the stance, Rothwell keeps his hands extended. This gives Rothwell the ability to paw at his opponent’s hands but to also parry straight punches flying at him.

Notice how much pawing Rothwell does. Similar to Foreman.
Foreman paws and blocks a jab, this is a constant in both Rothwell and his game.

By keeping his arms extended outwards, Rothwell is able to deflect and parry strikes. This allows the slower and bigger fighter to stay in his opponent’s face, flustering them. People have aptly named this the leverage guard. By leveraging his opponent’s punch onto his extended arm, Rothwell can use his long reach and stature to deflect rather than block.

Rothwell using his extended hands well, in order to pressure safely by parrying strikes.
The same concept here. Foreman pressures, but is always ready to deflect the center path, with a simple move of the head.
Rothwell leaning to his right side before charging in. However, Mitrione doesn’t throw, so Rothwell charges.
The Difference

The glacial improvements I mentioned earlier, were always there. However, when Rothwell switched to a more aggressive forward mindset, he added some weapons. In order to keep his opponents in his face, Rothwell added the kicks.

Rothwell gave Ivanov some different things to think about with the kicks. Discouraging body shots.
Kicking out Barnett’s trailing leg, as he backs off.

The kicks served the purpose of also adding variation. This was able to frustrate but also take his opponent’s mind away from Rothwell’s punching. This also came off the lean, giving Rothwell the momentum to throw these kicks with some power, as he does not rotate his hips into the kick.

Rothwell also throws his harder strikes from the lean. Unlike Foreman, Rothwell doesn’t rotate into his punches or put much body weight into them like a traditional boxer. However, by leaning into the far side and leaning into his punches, he can put some sting into his punch.

Notice how Rothwell leans to his right before he comes with the right hand. This defends him from the right hand but also serves as a launchpad for his right hand.
Notice how Rothwell is constantly leaning left and right, before his strikes.
By leaning and then throwing his strikes, Rothwell can also cover a lot of distance. Against Ivanov, Rothwell was able to catch him on the end of his punches as a result of his lean.

The Rematch

Recent Arlovski has looked far more passive and less likely to charge forward with punches. This has been lauded as a thoughtful improvement, however, it is likely because Arlovski no longer has the cardio to constantly charge forward or the chin to risk it.

Furthermore, his charges have become far slower. Look for Arlovski to back up and then charge forward with his winging right.

A big right hand, however not much has changed.
The same combo, however, his age has slowed him.

However, against Rothwell, these charges might end up like his loss to Ngannou. Constant and obvious charges will be a mark for Rothwell to land uppercuts and push Arlovski off.

Arlovski going for a telegraphed combination, which gets him countered and finished.
Rothwell showed that he can catch charging opponents like Overeem in their fight.

Denying clinches for Arlovksi to rest will be paramount for Rothwell as he can do meaningful damage if he stays in his face.

The extended hands also allow for Rothwell to easily push off, in case he doesn’t want to end up in the clinch

Conclusion

In the decade since Rothwell lost to Arlovski, he has found a mindset that supports this style. While he had the beginnings of the leverage guard, it wasn’t until adding aggression and defense that he could start to look this good.

Arlovski, on the other hand, suffers deeply from change. Arlovski has remained the same fighter as he did against Rothwell in their first fight. This leads me to believe that Rothwell this time will likely be able to light up Arlovski in exchanges.

However, Arlovski has proven that he can stall and deny his opponents the opportunity to deal heavy damage. Regardless, it will be a treat to see Rothwell return to winning ways and get revenge for his loss a decade ago. While his glacial improvements took the better part of two decades, Rothwell has turned into an interesting striker and I look forward to the late stage of his career.

Main Photo
Embed from Getty Images

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