Ten years on, can Arlovski work his way back to UFC gold?



MMA Cage

Photo:  MartialArtsNomad.com 

Andrei Arlovski is fast approaching 16 years in to a very volatile career – one that has tasted the highs of world championship gold and lows of consecutive defeats abound with calls for retirement. The 35-year-old Chicago native has always remained steadfast in his desire to keep competing and it looks like that might be paying dividends now that he is back in the ‘big show’.

It hasn’t always been plain sailing. It’s been ten years since ‘Pitbull’ won the UFC heavyweight title with a submission victory over Tim Sylvia at UFC 51. That is a whole generation away from the current crop of top fighters, most of whom wouldn’t have even been training in mixed martial arts back then let alone be considered the best in the world. It’s inspiring to think that a martial artist from Belarus could make it to The Windy City and get to the top of the tree on his first run at the top. It is even more inspiring for him to potentially be on the cusp of doing it all over again a decade later.

The UFC’s roster is much stronger now than it was. The barren times of three Arlovski vs. Sylvia title fights keeping the heavyweight division afloat seem a world away. Since then, he could well have called it a day if he had listened to the detractors. When even long-time trainer Mike Garcia was vocal on the issue, you know there were serious concerns.

Arlovski left the UFC at the end of his contract and on a five-fight win streak. He met Fedor Emelianenko, who was universally acknowledged as the greatest heavyweight fighter on the planet. This was the start of a devastating four-fight slump. It wasn’t considered a career fatality getting knocked out by Emelianenko, but then a stoppage loss to Brett Rogers really hit home and had people asking questions. But maybe he was just caught cold? Well, defeat to Antonio Silva and then another KO courtesy of Sergei Kharitonov meant his career had truly been flipped on its head. The media were not kind, but he was sure he wasn’t done in the sport.

He had to rebuild, and he did so by scaling back the opposition. The largely unheralded Ray Lopez served as a confidence booster when Arlovski got back in the cage, and then journeyman Travis Fulton also faced the full force of the ‘Pitbull’. Arlovski had been taking on the world’s best for years and to rebuild he was coming from the ground up. With two wins, he was in the right frame of mind to try and put the rivalry with Sylvia to rest in fight number four. Unfortunately an illegal kick left him with a no contest despite a good showing, but he could take positives from the performance.

His only slip-up in ten fights since the skid was a decision loss to Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson but it was another lesson for Arlovski, who showed he did have the heart and chin to power through situations against heavy hitters. Since then, Johnson has gone on to finish the likes of Alexander Gustafsson and Antonio Nogueira on his nine-fight win streak and that has earned him a shot at Jon Jones for the UFC light-heavyweight title. Though he’ll come in as an 11/4 underdog, according to bet fair, the fact that he is now considered the world number two mitigates Arlovski’s defeat, one that many thought was a much bigger blow at the time.

With a decision victory over Mike Kyle and a TKO of Andreas Kraniotakes, Arlovski earned himself another UFC contract. Since then he has put together back-to-back wins. Most notably, he knocked out Antonio Silva in a rematch of their 2010 Strikeforce battle despite coming in as the underdog. Silva is a very relevant fighter at the top of the division, and this put Chicago’s Arlovski right back in the mix. The UFC have him at seventh in their rankings. Considering just a few years ago people were calling for him to end his career, that is an immense achievement.

In a division of sluggers he’ll still have his problems, but he’s a much better striking technician than most of his peers. Whether his chin can take him to the top will require more testing, but it’s hard to say with his power and skill he wouldn’t have at least a reasonable chance over the six fighters that come between him and champion Cain Velasquez.

If he could even get back to contention it would be one of the greatest career resurgences in MMA history. From four losses in a row and three harsh knockouts, he has since won nine out of ten with five finishes of his own. As a Cinderella man story, it’s about as good as they come. We’ll be keeping our eyes on it and seeing whether he can bring legitimate world championship gold back to Illinois. Velasquez seems unstoppable right now and this is an outside bet. However, if it was to come close then the ensuing movie script writes itself.

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