Ben Rothwell has joined the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC) roster.
The former UFC heavyweight announced his signing during an appearance on The MMA Hour, where he told Ariel Helwani that he inked a three-fight deal less than a month removed from his surprising UFC departure. BKFC has since confirmed the announcement on social media.
The ex-UFC heavyweight also provided insight into his split from the promotion, which he requested to pursue other opportunities. ‘Big Ben’ was scheduled to welcome a returning Alexander Gustafsson to the Octagon at an upcoming UFC Fight Night in May, but that fight fell through once he could not sign a new contract before then.
“The fight got brought to us in January and they announced it,” said Rothwell. “There was like an announcement and stuff was going on. Me and my management sat back and were like, ‘Well, it’s the last fight on our deal. What comes next? What are we gonna do?’ So we went to the UFC and said, ‘Are we going to sign something? Are we gonna get something done ahead of time for this fight? Because in my mind, I’ve been kind of seeing the landscape of what’s going on. My timing, where I’m at in the picture and they let go of some of the big heavyweights and stuff.
“Even if I go in and perform well, knock out Gustafsson in the first round, look great, what’s gonna happen next?,” continued Rothwell. “And we came back and asked, ‘Hey, are we gonna sign a deal?’ and they came back and said, ‘Hey, let’s see what happens after this fight.’ We talked about it and kind of suspected that was the answer, which kind of left the door open for, ‘Go win, do great and we’re gonna let you go anyway.’ I didn’t like that, and we asked for our release in February.”
Immediately after his release, Rothwell was free to field offers from other promotions. He said he received offers from “pretty much everybody,” but there was one that he could not refuse.
“BKFC came with the best offer, made me very excited,” said Rothwell. “I believe that it’s a place for me because I was doing BKFC long before MMA. So it’s something I’m a part of in my life, something my great grandfather was doing, probably not legally, but had a history of it. It’s just kinda something in my blood and I’m really excited to be with them.”
Details on his debut were not given, but Rothwell expects those to be ironed out in the next couple of days.
Rothwell also said that his mixed martial arts career is not over despite the shift to bare-knuckle boxing. The 40-year-old began his life as a pro fighter in 2001 and has amassed an overall record of 39-14, having fought for a wide range of promotions—including the now-defunct International Fight League (IFL) and Affliction MMA.
Rothwell joined the UFC in 2009 and alternated between wins and losses in his first five fights before rattling off four consecutive wins over Brandon Vera, Alistair Overeem, Matt Mitrione and Josh Barnett. Unfortunately, the newfound momentum was short-lived. Rothwell dropped his next three fights and was then suspended by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) for “the presence of an anabolic androgenic steroid of exogenous origin” following an out-of-competition test. Upon his return to the Octagon, he went 3-4. His most recent loss was against Marcos Rogério de Lima, who finished him in 32 seconds at UFC Vegas 42 this past November.