With 10 UFC title fights between them, along with 29 combined victories inside the Octagon, former heavyweight champions Anrdrei Arlovski and Frank Mir have fought some 23 years under the UFC banner.
The pair, who list 19 first-round finishes to their collective credit, are two of MMA’s more seasoned veterans. And 10 years after they were initially slated to fight for the UFC heavyweight championship, Andrei Arlovski and Frank Mir are finally getting into the Octagon, together.
Two of the hottest names in the UFC’s scorching heavyweight division, Arlovski and Mir are also two of the more surprising surnames to hear as the UFC 191 co-main event. It was just two years ago that Arlovski was floating around the MMA minors, while Mir was in the midst of a four-fight losing streak. Both competitors appeared to be spent and cashed out after remarkable careers.
And then, along came Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva.
Much like former foe Tim Sylvia, the man from whom both Arlovksi and Mir won UFC gold, Silva is a towering hulk of a man, and a giant mass of finely tuned MMA skill, technique, and power. A former heavyweight title challenger in his own right, Silva returned from suspension to face Arlovski in September 2014, but the night would favor the Belarussian, who knocked Silva out in under three minutes.
And while Arlovski would score his first UFC win in nearly 6 years against Silva, Mir would re-gain his own wayward confidence just five months later, needing less than two minutes to put “Big Foot” away.
At the time of Mir’s win over Silva, many were quick to dismiss the victory, noting that the Brazilian had been on the downward spiral ever since the TRT ban took effect in February 2014. But Mir, who had returned to his native Las Vegas to train under Bishop Gorman head coach Ricky Lundell after time served at Albuquerque’s Jackson-Winkeljohn camp, Arlovski’s current home, was already redefining his fight game, with added body weight and a renewed emphasis on his boxing.
Still, after four consecutive losses, a win over Silva would do little to bump Mir up the divisional rankings. Arlovski, however, had vaulted up to the division’s eighth rank, and was slated to fight third-seeded Travis Browne in May 2015.
Leading into the Browne fight, Arlovski had looked vastly improved to the athlete who had dropped four straight, including three brutal knockouts, during a rough stretch in the late aughts. And while he would win his first two bouts since returning to the UFC, Arlovski would certainly meet his maker against Browne.
Little did we know that the two were about to deliver one of the best rounds of 2015. Even less did we know that Arlovski would score the upset, landing the standing TKO in the first frame.
Arlovski’s name was instantly catapulted into the title talk. As for Mir, he would land a headlining bout against a younger and more physically fit Todd Duffee for his next fight. Most pegged Duffee the favorite, and his cyborg frame of sheer muscle and power would certainly be enough to finish Mir and send the former champ packing.
Again, the upset was in order, as a 260-plus pound Mir shut the lights out on Duffee in just 1:13, sending the massive challenger down to the mat, hard, where he would stay for minutes. For the second straight contest, Frank Mir, the UFC’s most accomplished heavyweight grappler, would let his hands do the talking. And like Arlovski, for the second straight bout, Mir would earn a post-fight bonus.
With both fighters riding win streaks, the possibility of booking two former UFC champions finally became a reality. Perhaps the current matchup is not as sexy as the title fight the two were scheduled for 10 years ago, but it’s a rare opportunity to see historic champions, those from a different era of MMA, come full circle, a decade later.
For Arlovski, the bout with Mir does come as a bit of a surprise. Many anticipated that Arlovski would be promoted to a title fight against current strap holder Fabricio Werdum, over whom he owns a win. But with former champion Cain Velasquez earning an instant rematch against Werdum, the doors to a fight against Mir suddenly opened.
In Mir’s case, the fight against Arlovski is quite possibly another lifeline sent to revive his storied career. And if a gnarly motorcycle accident and Brock Lesnar couldn’t take Mir out of the pro MMA game, who’s to think that a few losses would stop a man who has snapped multiple bones inside the Octagon.
So, ten years after Arlovski and Mir were initially set to fight, how can anyone be excited for a pair of 36-year-old heavyweights who aren’t fighting for a title?
Well, the simple answer is evolution.
Back in 2005, Arlovski was a wrecking machine, known for fisting his way through competition, knocking out everyone in his path. Today, Arlovski is still that same gun slinging, barn burning terror on the feet. But the Belarussian has vastly improved his defensive game and positioning to avoid heavy shots.
And for all of Arlovski’s improvements, it is likely Mir who has undergone a more significant evolution, transforming his grappling-heavy routine into a more boxing-based style. He’s even carrying around an additional 20 pounds in his frame, helping with some added power, as evidenced by his recent knockout wins.
Somehow, in the face of triumph and loss, along with a major detour to a few other promotions in the case of Arlovski, both Arlovski and Mir have come full circle after a decade. And while it will never be known who would have won their cancelled bout, both fighters will have the opportunity to bring their careers to new heights and move closer toward yet another UFC championship with a win on Saturday.
And with the news that Arlovski and Mir are back at it on MMA’s highest level, somewhere in eastern Iowa, it’s likely that former two-time UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia is sitting by the phone, waiting for a call, looking for his own crack at Arlovski and Mir.
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