Andrei’s Exit?

By Jordan Breen Feb 29, 2008
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when Andrei Arlovski (Pictures) was "the guy" in the UFC. In a period of perceived Pride preeminence, he was seen as Zuffa's star heavyweight.

After Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures) had vanquished Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pictures) and Mirko "Cro Cop," some even thought Arlovski was the guy would could topple "The Last Emperor."

A prototype heavyweight with all the physical endowments you could hope for in a prizefighter, he would just as soon leglock you as jaw-smash you. Arlovski certainly looked the part, too, with an image predicated on designer lycanthropy. He was 26 years old and destined for bigger and brighter things.

That all seems like ancient history now.

The Belarusian, who looked set to reign as a lion among lepers, had his title reign cut short in his April 2006 rematch with Tim Sylvia (Pictures). In their much-maligned rubber match the following July, Arlovski was defeated again. The loss forced him into a painful predicament, professionally and promotionally.

Since that defeat, the heavyweight landscape has changed drastically. The demise of Pride brought several touted heavies to the Octagon. Randy Couture (Pictures) returned, and Randy Couture (Pictures) resigned. A former king in Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pictures) regained some measure of his glory and is now the UFC's heavyweight champion. Now, this Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, Arlovski will look to step back to the forefront of the division when he takes on undefeated, emerging heavyweight Jake O'Brien (Pictures).

"I look forward to getting back in the Octagon," says the former champ, who resides in Chicago. "Jake O'Brien (Pictures) is a very accomplished fighter with a perfect record. He has excellent wrestling and ground skills and cannot be taken lightly by anyone."

O'Brien came through as a serious spoiler in his last Octagon appearance when he upset veteran Heath Herring (Pictures). Although he was dropped once in the January 2007 bout, O'Brien otherwise pitched a shutout against Herring on the strength of effortless takedowns and positional dominance.

Arlovski is appropriately professional in discussing his opponent, but he's clearly unconcerned by the fact O'Brien aced his last step up in competition.

"My training camp was the same as always," Arlovski says.

The plainness of the response shows his faith in his team -- anchored by BJJ coach Dino Costeas and boxing trainer Mike Garcia -- and his intent to bring the same style into the Octagon that once earned him championship status.

However, despite the fact that the Arlovski-O'Brien fight pits an established top heavyweight against an undefeated up-and-comer, that is not the storyline garnering the most interest heading into the fight. Instead, attention has been heaped on the fact that this bout is the last on Arlovski's contract, prompting questions as to his future in the Octagon.

Arlovski seemed back on track as a contender last April. He took a clear if not exciting decision over Fabricio Werdum (Pictures) in one of the first much-awaited Pride-UFC clashes. With more top heavyweights making their way to the UFC, fans grew excited about prospective fights involving the "Pitbull." Rumors immediately surfaced, though, that Zuffa was reluctant to schedule Arlovski's next fight without him signing a contract extension. More speculation suggested that Arlovski and his management were content to wait out the remainder of the contract -- a claim that they've vehemently denied.

"I am a professional fighter and I love competing in the Octagon, and 10 months is definitely a long time for me," Arlovski says. "Sometimes things happen beyond your control, and you just have to deal with them in the most professional and ethical manner."

For whatever reason -- either a deep, stacked card or a power play on Zuffa's part -- Arlovski's upcoming bout is slated as a preliminary fight and is not scheduled to be aired on the live pay-per-view telecast. Yet the Minsk native doesn't seem overly concerned.

"I am concentrating on a fight," he says. "My job is to compete in the Octagon and do whatever I have to do to win the fight. It is not my job to decide what goes on the air and what doesn't.

"My recent inactivity was not my fault," Arlovski adds. "I tried to make the most out of this time by training and improving my skills. It was a difficult period in my life, but life doesn't end here, and there are other things in life besides fighting."

Zuffa has taken some criticism during Arlovski's time on the shelf, and the former champion hasn't been immune to critique either. He is well known for the "other things in life" he enjoys, including custom clothes and jewelry, model girlfriends and the other trappings that go with the nightlife. During the last 10 months he has dated Playboy cyber girl Patrycja Mikula, had Soyo design a custom LCD TV bearing his likeness, promoted his Team Pitbull gear and made an awkward if not amusing appearance as a guest bouncer on the ever-devoid "Jerry Springer Show." As a result, many have questioned if Arlovski is more drawn to a fighter's lifestyle than actually fighting.

"I grew up wearing the same clothes for years and not being able to afford things that I wanted," he explains. "I don't see anything wrong with rewarding myself with certain things after all the hard work I put into my career everyday."

Arlovski is adamant of his status as a fighter first. Coming from a family with a proud military tradition, he cites idols such as famed Russian field marshal Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov. However, in himself, he sees an even older spirit of combat.

"I would compare myself to a gladiator in ancient Rome, fighting in the Coliseum," Arlovski says.

If he does prefer an abstract chest of chainmail to Armani, it should be evident when he steps into the arena against O'Brien. Win or lose, though, what's next?

"To this day and for the last seven years, the UFC has been my home for most of my career," Arlovski says. "I have a very good working relationship with the UFC and I am concentrating on this fight, and this is the most important thing for me. Right now I am a UFC fighter that is having a fight on March 1st against Jake O'Brien (Pictures)."

When Arlovski steps into the cage against O'Brien on Saturday, it should be as revealing as it is relevant for two standout competitors in the heavyweight division. However, no matter the stakes, the question on the minds of most will remain the same: After we hear "Onward to Victory" this time, will Arlovski be able to reemerge as a major player in the UFC's heavyweight division, or will he end up being "the guy" in another Coliseum?
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