There was a time when the adjectives violent, fearless, dangerous, aggressive, and lightning-quick were but a few of the words that accurately described the Belarusian phenom known as Andrei Arlovski. Epitomizing the phrase, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” the “Pitbull” proverbially struck fear into the hearts and minds of those who opposed his reign as the UFC heavyweight champion.
After an impressive six-fight winning streak that stretched three and a half years, with none of those matches reaching the seven-minute mark, Arlovski ran into an obstacle that he hasn’t yet been able to overcome mentally: his first defeat to Tim Sylvia at UFC 59 in April 2006.
Arlovski felt victory within his grasp after scoring a knockdown, but got reckless and ran right into an uppercut that felled him. The resulting barrage of strikes led to a technical knockout for the challenger Sylvia. This fight occurred a year after Arlovski beat Sylvia in 47 seconds with a straight ankle lock.
What came next was a relatively unexciting rubber match where neither fight did enough to prove that they deserved to win, but the decision would end up going to the champion Sylvia. Their third bout serves as the premier example for those who prescribe to the theory that you have to decisively take the belt away from the holder, which Arlovski clearly did not do.
It was later revealed that Arlovski suffered a leg injury in the second round after one of his kicks was blocked, and Sylvia received a concussion during the bout. Nevertheless, it was far from the best performance of their careers, and it seemed that the memory of the second fight was still in Arlovski’s head.
Running through a division with several knockout victories in a row, only to suffer the same fate yourself, can severely hamper a fighter’s confidence and create seeds of everlasting doubt. This seems to be what happened to the former heavyweight champ. It was unknown if Arlovski could or would recover to his championship form after his fall from grace.
The “Pitbull” would return to the Octagon five months later against jiu-jitsu wizard Marcio Cruz. Arlovski looked focused and prepared, and landed a huge right hand off of his back after being taken down. The referee stopped the fight shortly after Arlovski pounced on the dazed Cruz. It was a good start on his road back to the title.
However, in April 2007, Arlovski would fight against another jiu-jitsu specialist, Fabricio Werdum. The “Pitbull” did not want to go to the ground in this fight, and was very cautious on the feet. The result was a lackluster striking contest which resulted in repeated booing by the crowd. Arlovski apologized for his performance after winning by decision.
After the Werdum fiasco, Arlovski got into a contract dispute with the UFC. He had one fight left on his contract, and wanted to renegotiate for more money. However, the UFC did not want to pay up, citing his performance against Werdum as “boring.” The UFC wanted him to sign a new contract before he fought again for less money, implying that Arlovski had nowhere else to fight and that they had the upper hand in negotiations.
So Arlovski sat on the bench for nearly a year, and waited to have his last match just before his contract expired. He fought the undefeated Jake O’ Brien on the first day of March at UFC 82, on the undercard. Arlovski won by TKO in the second round, but was losing the fight before then. He looked passive standing up, and got taken down a couple of times before tripping O’ Brien and finishing him from the mount position.
Arlovski has left the UFC for the moment, signing a three-fight deal with the Affliction promotion. He is slated to fight IFL superstar Ben Rothwell on July 19 for Affliction’s first card, the aptly named Affliction: Banned. Rothwell is on a 13-fight winning streak, and is prepared for his strictest test yet as he aims for a spot in the upper-echelon of MMA’s heavyweight division.
Rothwell’s strength lies in his striking capabilities, so this fight will most likely take place on the feet. But will Arlovski show the tenacity and aggression that led him to the UFC championship? Or will he remain gun shy like in his last four fights? The Arlovski that beat Paul Buentello and Tim Sylvia in a minute combined would dispatch of Rothwell with relative ease.
The Arlovski who scraped by Werdum and Jake O’ Brien will struggle against Rothwell. Sometimes, the “Pitbull” can seem predictable as he looks to land that huge straight right hand of his. “Big Ben,” as Rothwell is also called, packs quite a punch himself, with most of his victories coming by way of knockout also. And just because he may have not fought top competition yet, does not mean he cannot beat a ranked fighter.
The “Pitbull” came back strong after starting his UFC career with one win and two losses. In order to wear the gold around his waist again, he will need to find the intensity and fire that he had in his fight with Ian Freeman at UFC 40. That victory inaugurated a dominant winning streak that has been matched by only a handful of fighters.
Arlovski wants to finish Rothwell by knockout, but will need to be confident and aggressive; otherwise it will be a long night for him. In many instances, an athlete may reach a mental hurdle that he can’t overcome, which prevents him from reaching the next level of excellence. A mere two years ago, fans were pandering for a fight between Arlovski and Fedor Emelianenko to determine the No. 1 heavyweight in the world.
Now, fans just want to see Arlovski return to his exciting ways, because he has all the physical tools and combat potential that one could ask for. If he recoups mentally and regains the confidence in his abilities that he once had, he can threaten and beat any heavyweight. Arlovski is currently training with legendary boxing coach Freddie Roach, and might be making his pro boxing debut this September, though nothing has been confirmed yet.
MMA fans joke that Arlovski needs to grow back his beard, locks, and body hair in order to return to his previously frightening and intimidating self. Perhaps “Wolfman” or “Wolverine” is a more appropriate nickname for Arlovski than “Pitbull,” given the fangs that he wears for a mouth guard.
No matter what his nickname may be, if the Arlovski who won the UFC belt makes an appearance on July 19, it could be the start of another reign of terror in MMA’s heavyweight division.
And that is a proposition other fighters are hoping does not come to fruition.