mma / Columns

Andrei Arlovski Refuses to Quit

July 22, 2019 | Posted by Dan Plunkett
Andrei Arlovski

The low point of Andrei Arlovski’s career happened just after he came so close to the top.

Following two consecutive losses to Tim Sylvia in 2006, Arlovski built himself back up. There was the crafty stoppage over Márcio “Pé de Pano” Cruz, the decision win over Fabricio Werdum, the knockout over Ben Rothwell, and the sniping of Roy Nelson (although this fight was not without controversy). This series of wins brought Arlovski to the apex of his career, carrying him to the number two spot in the heavyweight rankings, and leading him to a showdown with the world’s top-ranked heavyweight.

Things were going so well for Arlovski in his fight against Fedor Emelianenko. His clean punching was giving Emelianenko issues; it gave the sense that something might happen that had never happened before—Fedor might legitimately lose. And then it was over. Arlovski backed Emelianenko into a corner and launched an ill-fated flying knee. An Emelianenko right hand caught Arlovski’s chin in mid-air, sending the challenger falling to the mat in one of the most vicious one-punch knockouts you’ll ever see.

This was a sobering defeat, but it didn’t seem to be the end. Arlovski was doing quite well until that final punch. There would have been interest in a rematch if Arlovski could climb back onto his horse. Then came the storm.

Brett Rogers was a big, powerful, raw heavyweight, the kind that racks up several quick finishes against lesser competition before being schooled against higher caliber fighters. Andrei Arlovski was that higher caliber fighter, and therefore entered his fight with Rogers as a significant favorite. But Arlovski’s chin and defense couldn’t hold up against the initial blitz. He fell in 22 seconds, spiraling him into a rut that it didn’t seem he’d recover from. His next two fights were losses. He was 32-years-old and washed less than two years after being on the cusp of upsetting the number one heavyweight in the world.

This was eight years ago. Since then, Andrei Arlovski has had two more winless streaks of four or more fights. Remarkably, he’s battled his way out of every rut and shown ridiculous staying power.

Arlovski debuted in the UFC nineteen years ago at the promotion’s first event following the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. His first title shot fell by the wayside in 2004 when Tim Sylvia was removed from their title fight on weigh-in day due to lingering remnants of a steroid in his system from a prior failed test. He would beat Sylvia early the following year to capture the interim heavyweight title, and was later promoted to full champion when Frank Mir took longer than expected to recover from a motorcycle accident.

Sylvia beat him for the title in 2006 and Arlovski was never able to reclaim it. He might have received another shot in 2008, but Affliction was throwing around huge money for their promotional startup and lured him away from the UFC.

Six years later, Arlovski returned to the UFC cage. It had taken him more than two years of activity to wash away the taste of his disappointing four-fight streak. Over that period, he beat lower-level guys, with the most notable win coming against Mike Kyle, but he established a strong 6-1 record with 1 no contest.

Incredibly, Arlovski worked his way back into UFC title contention. After a controversial decision win over Brendan Schaub in his return, Arlovski scored first round stoppages over Antonio Silva (avenging a loss from his earlier four-fight losing streak) and Travis Browne (in a legendary one-round slugfest). Then defeated Frank Mir (the title match that never happened in 2005), which put him in a title eliminator.

Years of work to return to his old spot once again came crashing down in seconds. Future heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic knocked Arlovski out in 54 seconds, sending him into another rut. Stoppage loss to Alistair Overeem, Josh Barnett, and Francis Ngannou followed. Then there was a decision loss to Marcin Tybura.

With his back challenging the strength of the wall, Arlovski took home wins over Junior Albini and Stefan Struve. But then it was back to losing. Tai Tuivasa and Shamil Abdurakhimov took him decision wins. Walt Harris initially had a decision win that was later overturned due to a failed drug test. Then came another decision loss, this time to Augusto Sakai.

On Saturday, Arlovski halted the four-fight winless skid by defeating Ben Rothwell.

Usually, a UFC fighter that the promotion sticks with through long losing streaks is either a supremely exciting fighter or is an all-time legend with a big name. Arlovski falls on the latter side, but he differs from someone like a BJ Penn in that he was never a major attraction for the UFC.

Arlovski was the heavyweight champion at a time when the promotion was just starting to turn a corner, but he never drew major pay-per-view or ticket sales. Yet he is still a name fighter and game fighter that the promotion likes to match against up-and-coming heavyweights. That’s why he’s been given the chances to turn it around. More remarkable than the chances, however, are the fact that he keeps clinging on. We’ve seen a lot of fighters unable to stop the bleeding—Penn, Rashad Evans, and Josh Koscheck come to mind; Renan Barao might join that club. For Arlovski to patch himself up multiple times and keep going says more about him than history is likely to recognize.

Dan Plunkett has covered MMA for 411Mania since 2008. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Dan_Plunkett.

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Andrei Arlovski, Dan Plunkett