Last Chance for Arlovski
Posted by Dan Plunkett on 05.05.2014
Andrei Arlovski is returning to the UFC, but does he have a chance at success? 411's Dan Plunkett discusses that question and more!
Andrei Arlovski entered UFC 82 on March 1, 2008, ready to complete the final bout on his UFC contract. Despite being one of the better known fighters in the UFC, both parties knew going in it could be Arlovski's last dance with MMA's leading organization. Arlovski purposely held off on signing a contract extension to lobby for a better deal. The UFC responded by sticking him on the preliminary card of UFC 82.
In early 2008, a new player emerged in MMA. Clothing company Affliction was getting in the promoting business and had partnered with Golden Boy Promotions and Donald Trump. They were paying top dollar for talent and aggressively pursuing heavyweights. In June, Affliction signed Arlovski to a lucrative deal.
Last week, after competing elsewhere for six years, the UFC announced the return of Andrei Arlovski. "I always knew I was going to come back," Arlovski told MMAFighting.com. "It was sooner or later. I knew I was going to come back to the UFC soon."
There was a period where Arlovski returning to the UFC seemed unlikely.
In retrospect, Arlovski's most fruitful period was as UFC heavyweight champion in 2005, but his 2008 divorce from the UFC provided him the opportunity to get prominent ink in MMA's history books. In his first two post-UFC bouts, Arlovski recorded two stoppage victories to increase his winning streak to five matches. By the close of 2008, Arlovski was widely considered one of the top three heavyweights on the planet. His streak of wins had earned him an opportunity to bust the most famous streak in MMA: Fedor Emelianenko's nearly unblemished record.
By 2009 Fedor Emelianenko's reputation had reached a mythical level. In 31 fights, he had never truly been beaten. He faced criticism for facing lesser opponents, but his 36 second destruction of Tim Sylvia proved he was still at the top of the heavyweight ladder. When he stepped in the ring against Arlovski, Fedor was generally considered the greatest fighter of all time. Arlovski wasn't given much of a chance.
In the opening minutes of the fight, Arlovski's straight, fast punches and low kicks were landing. Fedor's wide power punches continually missed. Three minutes into the match, an Arlovski right hand and pushed kick backed Fedor into a corner. Sensing blood, "The Pitbull" went in for a final bite. He leaped in the air for a flying knee, but before he could even lift the knee, his chin was met by Fedor's right hand. Arlovski fell in a heap. It was the beginning of a long fall for the former champion.
He followed the Fedor loss with the longest skid of his career. As Affliction collapsed, Arlovski went to Strikeforce on a loan to face Brett Rogers. In an upset, Rogers quickly knocked Arlovski out. Two months after the bout, Arlovski confessed to playing the dangerous game of Russian Roulette due to the depression that followed the loss. "First time I was 16; second time I was 30," he told Fighters.com. "It's when you don't care about anything." Following a decision loss to Antonio Silva, Arlovski was entered in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. He faced the powerful Sergei Kharitonov in the quarterfinals and was knocked out. After the rough patch, Arlovski went a respectable 6-1 with 1 no contest, although all but one of those wins came against lesser opponents.
Arlovski returns to the UFC older, slower, and carrying the damage of seven knockout losses over the course of his 15-year, 32-fight career. Returning to the most talent-rich organization while clearly on the downside of one's career is hardly advisable. That competitive drive that steered Arlovski back to the UFC is the same one that brought him to the heavyweight title. It's also the reason so many brilliant careers have ended on a sad note. The thought of another championship win is so intoxicating that stepping away at the right time is nearly impossible.
The unfortunate reality is that Arlovski's second run in the UFC won't end with a glorious title run. It probably won't even end with a win. Chuck Liddell's career ended with a knockout loss. Randy Couture's career ended with a knockout loss. Matt Hughes' career ended with a knockout loss. Arlovski's chin issues only increase the likelihood his will end the same way.
However, Arlovski does have a chance at another moment of glory on the biggest stage. One of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira's last great moments took place against Brendan Schaub. Schaub happens to be the fighter Arlovski will battle in his re-debut with the UFC in June. A win against Schaub, a solid competitor with power, would prove Arlovski can still compete at some level in the world's biggest MMA company. A loss against Schaub, conversely, is a sign to leave the sport behind.