Friday, Feb. 12, 2010 | 9:41 p.m.
Technically, Ben Rothwell already made his UFC debut — a second-round TKO loss to Cain Velasquez last October in Los Angeles. But according to the former IFL champion, UFC fans still haven't seen the real him.
Rothwell says he didn't fight like himself during his debut at UFC 104. He didn't act or look like himself, either.
"The day of the fight, I shaved my head and cut my facial hair weird. That's not natural or normal for me," Rothwell said. "There was too much talking and not enough action on my part.
"The whole UFC thing — I just got carried away and came in not myself. I was doing things that weren't myself. That's behind me now and I'm ready to step forward and start anew."
Rothwell (30-7) is looking forward to reintroducing himself to the organization this month when he takes on Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic (25-7-2) on Feb. 21 at UFC 110 in Sydney, Australia.
Instead of talking about destiny and worrying about his appearance, Rothwell says, he's acting like himself this time leading up to the fight and believes the frustrating experience in his last fight has helped him grow.
"For this fight, my hair's going to be normal and I'm just going to be Ben," Rothwell said. "Hopefully, that will help me fight like Ben. I know that good things are going to happen."
The first step Rothwell made after the loss in Los Angeles was packing up his things and moving back to his hometown in Wisconsin after living and training in Iowa over the past six years.
When Rothwell made the move in 2004 to work with Pat Miletich, Iowa had built a reputation as one of the best places to train in the country.
Over the past few years, however, Rothwell says he saw the intensity of his Iowa camp falling off, while back in Wisconsin his coach and friend Duke Roufus was building an impressive stable of top MMA fighters.
"It's something I was kind of thinking about for awhile," said Rothwell, on moving back to Wisconsin. "There's a lot of energy here. It's all brand new. We're going after titles and trying to break Wisconsin into taking its spot in MMA.
"Iowa had their time six or seven years ago, and it doesn't seem like that energy is there the way it used to be."
Making it an even easier decision for Rothwell was that he would finally live closer to his 7-year-old daughter after being forced to making a three-hour drive any time he wanted to see her over the past six years.
"The move to Wisconsin has really been a big deal for me," Rothwell said. "I'm not blaming anybody else for what happened in my last fight, but I just wasn't having fun training anymore. I was starting to lose interest and it almost became something I had to do.
"Since I've come back to Wisconsin, Duke and my friends have been saying, 'Ben looks happy again.'"
Although he missed out on a shot to take down one of the biggest targets in the heavyweight division in Velasquez, Rothwell says he's fine with his current position and doesn't have any trouble focusing on what's in front of him.
Filipovic has lost three of his last four fights in the UFC, but the Croatian is still considered to be a very dangerous striker in the heavyweight division.
Whether he's won five or lost 10 doesn't make him any less dangerous to Rothwell, who has followed his professional career since it began in 2001.
"He's a guy I've been watching for a long time. He's been involved for awhile," Rothwell said. "He was a superstar in Japan. He's the kind of guy that makes you train hard. Regardless of what he's done recently, he's still 'Cro Cop' to me."
While a win in his "second debut" in the UFC won't completely erase the bad taste left by the first one, Rothwell says, his confidence hasn't suffered from it and he still knows he can do everything he set out to do in the organization.
And it all starts with just being himself.
"I've got seven losses and I don't get over any of them easily," Rothwell said. "I always look to them. It's not that I sit and dwell and get depressed; but I say, 'This is what I did wrong; don't do it again.
"At this level, you can't afford to have an off night. You have to be at your best. I'm a far more dominating fighter to let something like that happen. That was my mistake."