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Remember a few years ago, when everyone was talking about “the new breed of heavyweight?” It was back when behemoths like Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin were throwing cinderblocks around the Octagon, pummelling their opponents into oblivion with a terrifying blend of size and power. It was an exciting time for the heavyweight division and many fans speculated that the age of the 240lb. heavyweight was done. We appeared to be entering an era of towering, freak athletes who underwent major weight cuts to reach heavyweight’s 265lb. cap. Fans watched on in awe. Other fighters did what they could to adapt—it was this influx of giants that drove Frank Mir to temporarily bulk up to sedan-size.
Yet, as exciting a time as it was, it did not last. We saw Brock Lesnar torn to shreds by killers like Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem. Shane Carwin was pummelled into applesauce by Junior Dos Santos. “The new breed of heavyweight,” as it turned out, was a classic case of gun-jumping. They were outclassed as quickly as they’d arrived. The premature announcement of this new breed, however, was off base for another reason. The label was inaccurate because it suggested that the old breed was dead and gone. And as we have seen in the last two weeks, that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
If, when Lesnar and Carwin were pounding guys like Frank Mir and Heath Herring into sawdust, someone had suggested that they would be outlasted by weathered veterans like Ben Rothwell and Andrei “The Pit Bull” Arlovski, we all would have laughed. Back then, Rothwell was barely scraping by in the UFC, and Arlovski was neck deep in a four-fight losing streak outside the UFC. To suggest that in four years time either man would burst back into relevance with nuclear knockouts of top-10 heavyweights would have had you committed to Charles Bennett’s asylum of MMA.
But here we are, in 2014, still reeling from the staggering upset victories of Rothwell and Arlovski. At UFC Fight Night 50, Rothwell crumbled long-time contender Alistair Overeem. A week later, Arlovski—yes, the same man who was separated from his consciousness by Brett Rogers several years ago—knocked out the consensus number-4 heavyweight in the world, Antonio “Big Foot” Silva. Now, these two men, who have collectively fought almost 80 times, are bona fide top-ten heavyweights. Their upsets are stark reminders that in MMA, nobody should be underestimated—especially heavyweights who can change the course of a fight in the blink of an eye. Furthermore, Rothwell and Arlovski’s wins are deafening reassurance that, in spite of the premature announcement of the division’s new breed, the old breed never actually left.
Photo by Keith Tsuji/Zuffa LLC
For further proof of this, just look to the main event of the coming weekend’s card. Roy Nelson and Mark Hunt, two grizzled veterans who have both been labelled “washed-up” and “out of their prime” in the past will take centre stage in the headlining bout. And considering the lack of viable contenders in today’s heavyweight division, the winner of their fight will probably be within walking distance of a title shot. Nobody could have predicted such an outcome when Lesnar was bear-hugging the heavyweight strap from 2008-2010. At the time, Mark Hunt was on a three-fight losing streak—all first round stoppages. Nelson, during that stretch, scored knockout wins over Brendan Schaub and Stefan Struve, but was also tenderized by the furious punches of a then-surging Arlovski and a rising Dos Santos. How the times have changed.
Even Fabricio Werdum, who will challenge Cain Velasquez for the heavyweight title in a few weeks’ time, once looked to be on the wrong end of a long career, as Dos Santos punched him right out of the UFC in 2008.
The moral of the story here—most recently and most notably in the case of Arlovski—is that it is always unwise to count a heavyweight out. Not even a string of ugly knockout losses guarantees that a fighter can’t bounce back. It was, after all, in the midst of such slump that Arlovski’s career was not just pronounced dead, but buried and forgotten. Now, he is riding a record of 8-1 (plus one no-contest) in his last 10 fights. And most astoundingly of all, he is suddenly one of the UFC heavyweight division’s top contenders.
Even in light of their massive wins over Overeem and Bigfoot, the moans of Arlovski’s and Rothwell’s skeptics will resound. And realistically, their doubters are probably correct. While their wins were impressive, it is unlikely either man will climb much further up the heavyweight latter—not with young guns like Dos Santos and Stipe Miocic waiting in the wings. Yes, it’s true that at heavyweight the young lions reign. But truer still is the fact that no matter what records, odds, and ages suggest, no fighter, least of all a hard-hitting heavy, should ever be counted out.
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