For less than four minutes, Andrei Arlovski was able to prove that Fedor is only human. Andrei's style, speed, and stance were clearly neutralizing any rampage on the part of Fedor. For perhaps the first time in his career, Fedor's gameplan switched from initiating the pace and style of a combat, to trying to survive. It made me think of the Rashad Evans and Quentin Jackson puzzle that looping, wild punchers such as Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva, and Fedor are decidedly flustered [and KO'd] by. I am a Fedor fan, and I was not feeling great about the momentum Arlovski was gaining. In fact, I was fearful of an early stoppage.
That being said, a fight is a multi-faceted thing. Apparent or actual momentum early in a fight plan has never historically guaranteed continued dominance or a win. After re-watching the fight about a half dozen times, I noticed that ultra-high expectations for Fedor had coloured my perspective of the early first round. The heavy favourite going into this Day of Reckoning fight was in no doubt Fedor. Being undefeated, being hyped the way he was, and having so quickly stomped on Tim Sylvia, he created an aura that nothing less than a 20-second KO would have satisfied. Unfortunately for Fedor's fans, Arlovski successfully flustered Fedor and this created a disproportionate emotional swing in Arlovski's favour.
However, upon review of fight tape, Arlovski may have tamed Fedor, but he certainly did not dominate him the way it initially seemed. He simply made Fedor respect the hand strikes. Fedor is not light on his feet, and that is simply his style. Therefore he ate leg kicks, which always looks bad. But his incessant body weaves towards these kicks proved he was expecting them and was trying to capitalize on them. Fedor was not going to completely change his lifelong flat-footedness and was hoping to deal with Arlovski by being Fedor. The first several kicks made Fedor react, but they never damaged or cornered him. He was always in a position to counter punch and gave as much as he got before forcing Arlovski into a corner and initiating a clinch neither men could do anything with.
Referee Big John Macarthy separated the stalemate clinch and from this point forward, it really became uncomfortable for Fedor fans. It was truly at this point that—even upon mutliple fight reviews—Fedor was cowering. Andrei was confident and effective and could have finished the fight. But he made a reflex decision to go high with the knees and Fedor pounced. Slow motion recaps of this fight ending moment convinced me that Fedor only half-noticed the flying knee and did not truly react to it intelligently. In other words, Fedor was lucky the angle of the knee was not different, or he would have been face first on the canvas. Fedor's right hand was 60 percent hail mary, 20 percent strategic, and 20 percent dependent on Arlovski's well-documented glass chin.
Fedor is not as athletic as Arlovski so he will never appear as predatorial or dangerous. And Fedor seems more passive in his body mechanics during fights against superhero, ultra-muscular jock prototypes such as Arlovski and Kevin Randelman. Remember than in Fedor's win over Randelman, he had been somewhat neutralized and then viciously head-over-heels body slammed onto his head before calmly surviving, reversing, and submitting Randelman's apparent deadly onslaught. No one will know how things would have evolved if Arlovski's flying knee would have been intelligently replaced by jabs and right-handed straight crosses. It may have been night for the Last Emperor. I fear that he got...lucky.
In the end, if there was a category in the win column for "fluke," Fedor would have to humbly place this victory in that column. However, he was never truly dominated, he simply failed to dominate, and for Fedor loyalists, this simply won't do.
This is a matchup that begs a sequel.