As of last week, Ben Rothwell had not fought in more than a year, was coming off a drug suspension and wasn’t in the top-15 heavyweight contender rankings. He was essentially an afterthought.
Now? Rothwell is in the top 10. If he wins his next fight, some people might be talking about him getting a title shot.
Oh, how quickly things can change in the UFC’s heavyweight division.
Rothwell is ranked No. 9 among contenders after knocking out Alistair Overeem at UFC Fight Night on FOX Sports 1: Souza vs. Mousasi on Friday in Connecticut. "Big Ben" deserves the distinction, too. Overeem was No. 7 coming into the fight and didn’t fall too far afterward. He’s ranked No. 10 this week.
Heavyweight is a division constantly in flux. With a high rate of quick knockouts, fighters don’t get on a roll very often. Rothwell has now won two in a row for the first time since 2007 when he was in the IFL and that’s cause to take notice — even if the win before Overeem came against Brandon Vera, who was released by the UFC.
Matt Mitrione should have been considered for the top 15 this week, too. He has now won two straight, both by first-round knockout. Mitrione blasted Shawn Jordan in March and destroyed Derrick Lewis on Friday night. Somehow, though, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is still hanging on at No. 15 despite three bad losses in his last four fights and UFC president Dana White calling for his retirement.
Honestly, those ranked 11 through 15 at heavyweight are pretty underwhelming and many in the bottom of the top 10 are novelty acts at this point. Fabrico Werdum is the No. 1 contender to Cain Velasquez’s title and for good reason. But below him, No. 2 Junior dos Santos and No. 4 Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva have already lost to Velasquez twice and No. 3 Travis Browne was just dominated by Werdum in April.
The UFC has to look down toward No. 5 Stipe Miocic as the next best potential opponent for Velasquez, though Miocic has been tied to a fight against dos Santos. Maybe that isn’t the best idea, since it would eliminate the athletic Ohio native from title contention if he loses to someone who won’t be getting a title shot any time soon.
Then again, just one loss doesn’t mean a whole lot in this division. The winner of this month’s bout between No. 7 Mark Hunt and No. 8 Roy Nelson will also put himself in the conversation.
And that brings us back to Rothwell. He might only be one win away from the same discussion.
Inexplicable move of the week: Eddie Alvarez
Eddie Alvarez is only the 14th-best lightweight in the UFC? C’mon now.
The UFC introduced newcomer Eddie Alvarez, the former Bellator lightweight champion, into the rankings this week. I slotted Alvarez into my top 10, which is where he belongs. There’s no doubt the Philadelphia native is one of the best 155-pounders in the world. Just how good he is will be determinate on how he does against Donald Cerrone at UFC 178 on Sept. 27 in Las Vegas. But Alvarez is elite.
Maybe some of the voters didn’t see the on-screen prompt saying Alvarez was available for votes this week, because he’s currently in at No. 14 — far too low. Perhaps others left him out, because he has never won a fight in the UFC. That is shortsighted. But it’s a positive stroke that he is in the rankings before his fight at all. As I wrote in July, the UFC was missing the boat in keeping fighters out until after their bouts. The rankings are there for context and marketing purposes — to put a number next to a name to show viewers how good that fighter is.
Now, Cerrone-Alvarez is a battle of ranked lightweights on paper. Smart.
Holly Holm should be ranked in the women’s bantamweight top 15, but she is not.
— Alvarez wasn’t the only fighter added to the rankings this week. Holly Holm was also available to list. Unlike Alvarez, though, the former boxing champion was not ranked at all in the women’s bantamweight top 15. That’s also the wrong choice. I put Holm in at No. 14. She doesn’t deserve to be top 10 or anywhere close since she has never really fought a tough opponent in MMA. But on paper she’s probably better than a few fighters in the bottom of the rankings.
— Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza moved up two spots to No. 2 in the middleweight division, while Lyoto Machida dropped to No. 4. Vitor Belfort remained at No. 3. "Jacare" defeated No. 7 Gegard Mousasi at UFC Fight Night on FOX Sports 1 on Friday night, so a bump in the rankings was deserved. It’s understandable, but when it comes to sheer résumé, Machida and Belfort have him beat. That doesn’t mean I don’t think Souza should get a title shot — he should.
— Joe Soto made his rankings debut after falling to T.J. Dillashaw last week and now he’s at No. 14 on the bantamweight list. Why? Yes, Soto put on a solid performance against the champion, but he was dominated and Dillashaw had prepared for Renan Barao, not Soto, until Barao got hit his head in a weight-cutting mishap a day before the fight. The 135-pound division is fairly deep. There are plenty of fighters you can put in at No. 15 (how about Aljamain Sterling?) over Soto until, you know, Soto actually wins a fight in the UFC. It isn’t like he was coming into the organization with a boatload of hype like Alvarez.