Ben Rothwell is living in a world of "what ifs."
Rothwell (35-9) will attempt to extend a three-fight winning streak Saturday when he meets Josh Barnett at UFC Fight Night in Newark, New Jersey. It's a big fight for the 15-year veteran, but not as big as what might have been.
He was supposed to fight Stipe Miocic (14-2) in October, but that fell through when Miocic withdrew due to injury. Immediately, Rothwell turned his attention to Andrei Arlovski, but in an unexpected twist, the UFC booked Arlovski to a fight against none other than Miocic on Jan. 2.
It was a tough pill for Rothwell to swallow, as he basically lost his backup plan to the very opponent who pulled out of a fight against him to begin with. Miocic went on to knock out Arlovski in the first round of that fight and will now meet Fabricio Werdum for the UFC heavyweight championship on Feb. 6.
"Stipe has a two-fight win streak. I'm about to have a four-fight win streak," Rothwell said. "He can say anything he wants, but when it comes to reality, I deserve a shot more than he does.
"At least, wherever Josh Barnett is ranked, the guy has been around and UFC brass knows that anyone who can take him out is legitimately saying something. Smashing Barnett is going to put a scare into the rest of the division and make this title picture uncertain."
Whether or not a win over Barnett (34-7) propels Rothwell into a title fight against Werdum or Miocic, he believes it's only a matter of time before that opportunity is his.
The heavyweight division is in a state of flux, according to Rothwell, and the reason behind it, he says, is pretty obvious. With the UFC partnering with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) last year, it's pretty safe to say fighters are competing on a more level playing field than perhaps ever before.
Rothwell says he stands to benefit from that. The veteran of nearly 50 fights veteran believes the heavyweight division will receive the greatest impact of any, thanks to the USADA program.
"Before USADA, I would say 80 percent or more heavyweights were on performance-enhancing drugs," Rothwell said. "Let's just look at the facts. Bigger athletes don't like to train the way we do. This sport is exhausting. Big guys come and go all the time because they hate the hard work. The ones who survive seem to think they need steroids and PEDs to cope with the training.
"And let's face it, being a big guy and ripped just doesn't happen naturally. Everybody wants that ripped look. For a guy to weigh 265 pounds and get that look everyone wants to see in a professional fighter, he needs help. I think that's another big reason PED use is high at heavyweight. All divisions have it, but it has been bad at heavyweight."
Rothwell might seem an unlikely candidate to speak on such things, as he himself was flagged for elevated testosterone levels following a win against Brandon Vera in 2013. Rothwell, who was approved for the use of testosterone-replacement therapy (TRT) at the time, was suspended nine months.
He says he's still comfortable speaking on the matter, however, because his TRT therapy was prescribed for legitimate reasons. According to Rothwell, physicians linked his low testosterone levels to a car accident he suffered years ago. He has obviously gotten off TRT since, as it was banned in 2014. He believes other heavyweights will have a harder time than he did, transitioning off whatever they may have been using.
"These guys are changing. They're not the same," Rothwell said. "You see the Alistair [Overeem] and Junior dos Santos fight [in December], even when they get on the scale, the way they fought -- there are a lot of changes. Travis Browne just struggled to beat a guy [Matt Mitrione] I trashed in two minutes. There are a lot of changes going on right now in this division and I'm excited to be a part of it."