LOS ANGELES - It took (Big) Ben Rothwell 36 fights to get to the UFC. Cain Velasquez did it in two.
The two heavyweights meet Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 104 with newcomer Rothwell (30-6) looking to use that experience to subdue the raw power and potential of Velasquez (6-0).
Lyoto (The Dragon) Machida defends his light-heavyweight title against fellow Brazilian Mauricio (Shogun) Rua in the main event at the Staples Center (available on pay-per-view with several undercard fights available on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET).
Rothwell made his name in the International Fight League, where he went 9-0 in 2006-07. He had chances to move to the UFC before and immediately after the IFL but said the time wasn't right. He wanted to do more than just make it to the UFC.
"My objective all along is to come into the UFC as a somebody, and then make my name, finish my career there," he told a media conference call. "The only way you can finish your career here is if you win fights and you make a name for yourself.
"Obviously I've done something right because they put me on the poster and made the co-main event. I don't think it just happens, just because. I think it's because the guys that matter have been watching me and they know who I am, they know what I can do. That's why they gave me this opportunity. And I plan on being around for a while."
At 6-4 and needing to cut weight to make the 256-pound heavyweight limit, the 28-year-old Rothwell lives up his nickname. He likes to hold his left hand out, jab at the ready, and cock the right either for an uppercut or straight shot.
With 17 knockouts, he has power. Five of his nine IFL victories came in the first round and only two went to decision (Ricco Rodriguez and Roy Nelson). He has one-punch knockout power, as he showed against Bryan Vetell, whom he dropped with a short right.
He can also use his feet, knocking out Devin Cole with a kick to the head.
Rothwell has won 14 of his last 15, losing only to former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski in Affliction. He has not fought since last December when he submitted unheralded Chris Guillen.
Velasquez is an elite wrestler with raw power and a granite chin. Cheick Kongo hit him with thunderous shots at UFC 99 in June, but only managed to wobble the former Arizona State all-American wrestler. Velasquez shrugged it off and took the big Frenchman down to the ground repeatedly.
While Rothwell has far more experience, Velasquez is brimming with possibilities. He may be an accomplished wrestler, but the six-foot-one 240-pounder won his first three UFC fights by technical knockout, battering Brad Morris, Jake O'Brien and Denis Stojnic with his fists.
The decision win over Kongo, an intimidating veteran, was a huge step up and Velasquez did not disappoint. It's also telling that Velasquez and his American Kickboxing Academy team were not happy with his performance despite the victory
"Pretty much when I stood in front of him, I didn't do anything," Velasquez said later. "That's a mistake I'm not going to do again."
Velasquez has been so impressive he was scheduled to meet unbeaten Shane Carwin to see who would take on champion Brock Lesnar. But the UFC opted to move the popular Carwin to the top of the contenders' line.
So Velasquez got a date with Rothwell, acquired when Affliction pulled the plug on its fight promotions arm.
"It was discouraging at first but I really can't really dwell on it because then they gave me Ben Rothwell after that," he said.
"It is what it is," he added. "I do feel like I will be in that position (again), so it's no problem."
The 27-year-old from San Jose should have home-field advantage in southern California. The son of a Mexican immigrant, Velasquez walks to the ring with the Mexican colours tied around his hand. He has the words Brown Pride tattooed on his chest.
"Cain's going to have a big following," said Rothwell, who calls Kenosha, Wisc., home. "There's nothing I can do about that. But that all changes with the fight."