Everybody knew Ben Rothwell had knockout power in his hands, but no one would have predicted that he would earn his fourth win in a row by submitting Josh Barnett in the second round with his favorite front choke Saturday night at UFC Fight Night: Johnson vs. Bader in Newark, N.J.
Rothwell has been riding a wave of momentum with an impressive win streak that includes victories over Alistair Overeem and Matt Mitrione, but he still came into the fight as an underdog.
The odds didn’t matter as Rothwell not only defeated Barnett, but also did the unthinkable by finishing the fight by tap-out. Rothwell handed the former grappling champion and catch-wrestler the first submission loss of his 42-fight career (Barnett did previously tap due to punches, but had never tapped out due to a submission).
As the bout got underway, it was Barnett who established a stiff jab to keep Rothwell at bay throughout the round, popping the massive heavyweight with a series of punches that opened a cut on his nose.
Rothwell didn’t display much footwork but instead just stalked Barnett across the Octagon while looking to unload one of his sledgehammer punches.
It took the Wisconsin native until deep into the first round to finally find a home for some of his strikes, but his nose continued to get busted up courtesy of Barnett’s smart, tactical boxing.
The second round saw Rothwell get more comfortable at distance while targeting Barnett’s chin with a series of uppercuts, as the former heavyweight champion ducked his head while possibly looking for a takedown.
Rothwell stayed patient and didn’t overextend his punches, but as more of his shots started to land it forced Barnett to adjust and he eventually slipped inside looking for a takedown.
Rothwell defended well before quickly snatching Barnett’s neck in his patented "gogo" choke, before putting the fight on the ground and locking up the submission. Rothwell turned Barnett onto the ground and the pressure on his neck was simply too much, and he was forced to tap out.
"Josh Barnett just made me a better fighter than I ever could be," Rothwell said after the win. "I watched him for many years and to submit him, this is a message to the rest of the heavyweight division. I will go on to win the title, I will defend it, but this will still remain one of the greatest victories of my career. I respect him that much, he’s one of the best in the world."
Rothwell has won four fights in a row in the heavyweight division. It’s going to be hard to deny him a title shot in 2016 considering his streak and the level of competition he’s rolled through lately.
The veteran heavyweight has upped his game, and there’s no doubt that Fabricio Werdum and everybody else in the division should be forewarned that Rothwell is coming for them.