Sergei Kharitonov (top) has the power to put Arlovski away. | Taro Irei/Sherdog.com
Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix
Andrei Arlovski vs. Sergei Kharitonov
The Matchup: Once upon a time in 2005, when Fedor Emelianenko lurked in Japan and the UFC was in desperate need of a consistent heavyweight champion, Arlovski seemed to be that guy. With a destructive punch, athletic physique and assassin’s demeanor, he looked insanely good as a UFC champion. In submitting Tim Sylvia to win the title, he followed with two blowout defenses against the late Justin Eilers and Paul Buentello. It seemed the UFC had finally found its man.
Then Arlovski went south, losing twice to Sylvia. He parted ways with the organization despite winning three fights in a row. Once aggressive and imposing, his style seemed more cautious and introspective after he was knocked out in the second Sylvia bout. Since then, Arlovski has shown flashes of his signature explosiveness, flattening the durable Roy Nelson and giving Emelianenko some trouble en route to losing in Sherdog.com’s “Knockout of the Year” for 2009.
The Emelianenko loss precipitated a bad slide for Arlovski, who succumbed to Brett Rogers in 22 seconds and then dropped an uninspiring decision to Antonio Silva.
In the heavyweight grand prix, Arlovski has the chance to erase much of this, and, in Kharitonov, he has a good style match. A solid heavyweight for many years in Japanese promotions, Kharitonov is a willing striker that likes to mix it up. At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, he is a virtual carbon copy of Arlovski and, like the former UFC champ, has had his own ups and downs. He can instantly bounce skyward with a win here to move on in the tournament, where opportunities abound.
On paper, Arlovski has the physical tools to win this and win it big. He possesses a lot of overlooked skills, namely solid takedown defense and outstanding technical grappling. Plus, his Sambo background makes him excellent with submissions, especially leg and foot locks -- probably MMA’s riskiest submissions but effective for one who knows where and how to hit them.
It is in the mental side of the game where Arlovski seems to have grown considerable self-doubt in recent years. The Silva fight was a perfect example, as he had a huge, aggressive opponent coming right at him, and he simply could not pull the trigger enough to ward off the Brazilian.
Kharitonov is a solid striker with a Sambo background, as well. He throws the kinds of technically sound combinations rarely seen in heavyweight MMA, mixing up punches with kicks in the classic muay Thai style. While his ground game is not as stout as Arlovski’s, he likely has no concerns there, since the Belarusian rarely, if ever, shoots for takedowns.
The Pick: Look for a good, two-way exchange of strikes from the big men in this one, with the key factor being Arlovski’s response once he gets hit. It may be a reach to call him a frontrunner, but he does seem to lose his technical mojo when opponents keep coming, even if they are outmatched. However, this represents a huge opportunity, and Arlovski is still one of the more talented fighters in the division, mental game notwithstanding. The pick is Arlovski by decision in a back-and-forth war that puts the victor in good stead to challenge the Josh Barnett-Brett Rogers winner.
Continue Reading » Next Fight: Johnson vs. Del Rosario