If you were a fan of the UFC way back around 2004-2005, then the poetic irony of Andrei Arlovski vs Frank Mir finally taking place at UFC 191 this past weekend — a full decade past expiry date — couldn’t possibly have escaped you.
Since their early days as the UFC heavyweight division’s rising young guns, there have been many parallels between Arlovski and Mir’s career trajectories. A decade ago, both fighters rose to prominence by literally tearing a hole through the rest of their division; Frank Mir was the submission wizard while Andrei Arlovski fashioned himself the lethal striker. Both were dynamic finishers who seemed poised to contend for the divisional crown at some point. At the time, it seemed as though a match-up between Arlovski and Mir was an inevitable chapter of UFC history just waiting to unfold.
Expectations can be pretty damning.
The Resurrection of Andrei Arlovski
Though they both would eventually capture the UFC title — coincidentally, both on their respective seventh UFC fight, and both against Tim Sylvia — the aforementioned chapter wouldn’t be written for another ten years.
It was a shame that the fight itself could not live up to decade old expectations, but the “Pit Bull” edging out the unanimous decision win over his contemporary rival served at least one purpose: it validated a trend that most observant MMA fans have been suspecting for a little while — that the career resurrection of Andrei Arlovski in 2015 is as real and as unfathomable as Donald Trump running for President.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Since rejoining the UFC, Andrei Arlovski has been 4-0 in the promotion on top of riding an overall record of 10 wins in his last 12 fights. As the #4 contender in the UFC’s heavyweight division, the “Pit Bull” is closer to title contention than he has been since 2008. His return to prominence seven years after the end of his first UFC run is a testament to his resilience.
If any fighter has proven that he can overcome setbacks to thrive once more, it’s Andrei Arlovski. In fact, the Belarusian heavyweight has a history of coming up short, only to bounce back to silence his critics.
Act 1: Rise of the Alpha Dog (1999-2008)
In his professional MMA debut at M-1 MFC: World Championship 1999, Andrei Arlovski got off on the wrong foot by losing via brutal KO to eventual convicted extremist sociopath Viacheslav Datsik. Following that false start, Arlovski refocused his game and went on a three-fight rampage before signing with the UFC in 2000.
Career-wise, things seemed to be on the right track for the “Pit Bull”. After winning his promotional debut at UFC 28 against Aaron Brink however, the Belarusian would drop two consecutive TKO losses against veterans Ricco Rodriguez and Pedro Rizzo. Arlovski once again found himself with his back against a wall, but he would follow these setbacks with a run that would define his career.
From November 2002 to October 2005, Andrei Arlovski embarked on a six-fight win streak where he slaughtered all-comers via stoppage (5 TKO’s, 1 Submission). In the middle of that magical run, at UFC 51 on February 5th, 2005 — one day after his 26th birthday — the Pit Bull ascended to the UFC heavyweight throne by submitting Tim Sylvia via Achilles lock. By the tail-end of 2005, Arlovski had been so dominant for so long that he had convinced the world of his invincibility. With that, the “Pit Bull” had cemented his place as the alpha dog among heavyweights.
However, back-to-back losses to Tim Sylvia the following year at UFC 59 and UFC 61 would not only end his reign as UFC Heavyweight Champion, but also shatter his aura of invincibility. Perhaps the most damning part about those consecutive losses was that they had effectively pushed him from ‘champion’ to ‘contender’, and then from ‘contender’ to ‘gatekeeper’.
Arlovski would remain competitive in the UFC through 2008 though. In a particular chapter that would perhaps foreshadow the yet unwritten future, the International Master of Sports in Combat Sambo faced a four-time World Jiu-Jitsu champion by the name of Fabricio Werdum at UFC 70. On that night, it was the sambist who got his hand raised.
Shortly after his final promotional appearance at UFC 82 where he knocked out undefeated 10-0 prospect Jake O’Brien, Andrei Arlovski quietly left the UFC.
Act 2: Stray Days (2008-2013)
Over the next five years, Andrei Arlovski, the former UFC Heavyweight Champion of the world had essentially become a mercenary-for-hire who would main-event cards for any MMA promotion willing to bid for his services: EliteXC, Affliction, Strikeforce, One FC, World Series of Fighting, etc. It was also during those years sojourning in the wild that the “Pit Bull” would hit the lowest point of his career.
In one particular bad stretch from 2009 to 2011, Andrei Arlovski essentially hit rock-bottom. The low-point started with a brutal KO at the hands of Fedor Emelienenko at Affliction: Day of Reckoning. Following that crushing defeat, he subsequently suffered another three losses. Arlovski was knocked-out two more times against Brett Rogers and Sergei Kharitonov, with a decision loss to Antonio “Big Foot” Silva sandwiched in-between them.
For the first time in his illustrious career, Andrei was on a four-fight losing streak, essentially going 0-4 in two years. MMA observers had essentially written him off as “past his prime” and having a “glass jaw”.
As mentioned earlier, most fighters would have called it quits after losing four in a row, but resilience is an inherently “pit bull trait”. At the time, Arlovski had also started training with the Jackson-Winkeljohn tandem in Albuquerque. Mike Garcia, one of Arlovski’s old coaches had counseled him to retire — and with reason. However, it was Greg Jackson who convinced the “Pit Bull” that he could help him salvage his career and turn things around.
As a result, Andrei Arlovski put his trust in Jackson and Winkeljohn who gradually helped him build his confidence back. Over the next three years, the “Pit Bull” would garner a 6-1-1NC record. The highlight of that run was a brutal “no-contest” that saw Arlovski awaken to his old-self and maul his nemesis Tim Sylvia at One FC: Pride of a Nation. The contest was fought under hybrid rules where the referee could give a ‘green-light’ to allow soccer kicks. Arlovski had the “Maine-iac” beaten to a pulp and would have won that contest had it not been for the referee’s inability to enforce that rule. The resulting disqualification was overturned to a no-contest.
Act 3: Reclaiming his Yard (2014 – Present)
On June 14, 2014, at 35 years of age, Andrei Arlovski made his return to the UFC Octagon as an unranked competitor to face #14 seed Branden Schaub on the main card of UFC 174. To the cynical, Arlovski’s return appeared to be nothing more than the UFC’s attempt at garnering novelty points. Older fans of the sport on the other hand were just happy to see the legend back where it all started. For the “Pit Bull”, it was a far cry from his prime as a perennial top-5, but it was a start.
The return bout did not go as expected, but two of the three judges nonetheless ruled in favor of Arlovski, who ran away with the split-decision win.
Three months later at UFC Fight Night: Bigfoot vs. Arlovski in Brasilia, Brazil, Arlovski (#14) avenged an earlier loss against Antonio “Big Foot” Silva (#4) with a well-timed right-hook followed by repeated hammer fists on the ground. As “Big Foot” laid prone in the Octagon, the shocking knockout upset sent the MMA world into a Twitter frenzy, but many still questioned if it was just a fluke.
The confirmation came in May 2015 at UFC 187. With his two previous wins, Andrei Arlovski had suddenly climbed to the #8 spot among UFC heavyweights. He was set to face former training partner #3 contender Travis “Hapa” Browne as a heavy underdog (+325). The back-and-forth contest had the crowd on the edge of their seat and was arguably one of the most exciting one-rounders in UFC heavyweight history.
When it was all said and done, “Hapa” was no match for the surging “Pit Bull” who seemed to have recaptured his 2005 instincts. With a solid statement win over the highly-touted Travis Browne, all of a sudden, the MMA world no longer questioned Andrei Arlovski’s legitimacy as a serious contender.
As it stands, the former UFC Heavyweight Champion’s return was never meant to be a novelty act. As the #4 contender in the UFC’s heavyweight division, he sits only behind Cain Velasquez, Junior Dos Santos and Stipe Miocic to contend for the title.
What’s more? Andrei Arlovski is one of only three men in the UFC to hold a win over the current Heavyweight Champion Fabricio Werdum.
What’s Next for the Pit Bull
With most of the top-10 fighters in UFC heavyweight division already locked-up in future matches, this leaves Andrei “The Pit Bull” Arlovski without a probable opponent in the foreseeable future.
Cain Velasquez (#1) is set to rematch Fabricio Werdum (C) for the title sometime soon. Meanwhile, Junior Dos Santos (#2) and Alistair Overeem (#9) are set to square-off this December in a highly anticipated bout at UFC on Fox 17. The winner of that bout could potentially earn a shot at the UFC Heavyweight Championship. As for Stipe Miocic (#3), he is expected to face Ben Rothwell (#6) at UFC Fight Night 76 in October.
As the fourth seed in the division, Arlovski could very well be the UFC’s wildcard in case any of these fighters fall to the dredged injury bug. Or maybe he’s really waiting in the wing for an “Emperor” to return…
A few years ago, if anyone would’ve told me that in 2015, Andrei Arlovski would be one win away from earning a shot at the UFC Heavyweight Championship, I would have chuckled and replied: “Yeah, and Donald Trump will run for President.” Oh, wait…
Words of advice: pit bulls are a resilient breed.
Never count the “Pit Bull” out.