Andrei Arlovski is chasing the title he once held. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
There was a point in time, 10 years ago or so, when it seemed unrealistic that Andrei Arlovski -- then the reigning UFC heavyweight champion -- would be on the outside of the MMA world looking in.
“The Pit Bull” was running roughshod over the crop of big men at the time, and he was doing it in destructive fashion. Even though revisionist history belies the reality of the time because his division was barren in all actuality, Arlovski was tearing everybody asunder.
Fast-forward a few years after his highlight-reel obliterations of Paul Buentello, Justin Eilers, Tim Sylvia and several others, and Arlovski was a distance memory, a punchline to those who followed and covered the sport. Losing four straight bouts and being knocked out cold in three of them will do that to a man.
But Arlovski was steadfast in his self-belief. He kept plugging away and training to become a better fighter. He honed his craft little by little and fought a few times in low-level MMA shows, not only to build his résumé but also his confidence. All of a sudden, Arlovski was on a winning streak and eventually signed to the nascent World Series of Fighting.
After continued success, Arlovski improbably found himself back in the UFC. Now, he is enjoying the fruits of his labor in the midst of a scintillating five-fight winning streak, with his last two victories coming via first-round knockout. His three-minute destruction of Antonio Silva last September established the Belarusian as a serious contender in the current climate of the UFC’s heavyweight division. When he survived a torrid war with Travis Browne in May where he won in spectacular highlight reel fashion, Arlovski’s status as a legitimate threat to Fabricio Werdum’s title was confirmed.
That win has aligned Arlovski in such a way that, if he wins another bout or two, he could challenge for the UFC’s heavyweight crown again. First, he has to get past former two-time champion Frank Mir on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 191 in Las Vegas.
“First of all, it is going to be an honor to fight Frank because I am extremely happy for him,” a humble Arlovski said on a recent UFC media conference call. “Frank and I, we’re like old school fighters. He is climbing back on the top right now, I’m number four, and I’m very excited for that fight and I’m sure the fans are, too. I’m sure it’s going to be a good fight.”
It’s as if the MMA community has taken a trip in a time-traveling Delorean considering what’s at stake between which two fighters. But, for as much as Mir and Arlovski have evolved over the years in their resurgences, much of what made them champions in the first place has remained intact. However, Arlovski is quick to point out that Mir has improved his striking to coincide with his always dangerous ground game.
“[In the past], he was just dangerous on the ground because he is a black belt. Now, he wants to fight and he fights very dangerous standing,” Arlovski said. “I have to keep in mind he is not only a black belt, he also has the power to knock people out. So, I have to be ready for this as well. I just need to keep in mind he can throw punches, he can throw combos, and I just need to keep my hands up all the time.”
Arlovski seems at peace with himself amid his desire to reclaim what he lost a decade ago. He’s more relaxed even though the fire that burns deep inside has grown in intensity. Some changes in his approach to training and his life outside the cage have made all the difference in the world and in his current state of mind, he seems more grateful for this resurrection than anything else. With that, he is not taking anything for granted and will make the most of the second chance he was given to fight for the world’s biggest MMA promotion.
“I think I became a smarter person,” he stated. “I choose what is more important for me and I have a second run in UFC. I’m sure it’s going to be better than the first one. I don’t ever think it’s impossible to be a champion again.
“I just love what I’m doing right now and I feel great... I still have fire in my eyes,” he continued. “I’m just really grateful. It’s different than last time it was 10, 15 years ago. I still have that hope in my mind that I’m going to do this for my fans and just show that it’s not impossible to take a great competitor out on September 5.”
If Arlovski is to fulfill his destiny to regain the title he lost to Sylvia in their rematch, he might have to have to wrest it from current champion Werdum, whom Arlovski already toppled at UFC 70 in 2007. When asked about the Brazilian, Arlovski was coy, yet eager to possibly take him on again.
“I have no comments about Fabricio Werdum,” he said. “I thought Cain [Velasquez] was going to beat him, but you have a new champion and hopefully one day I’m going to fight him again.”