In his unfinished novel The Last Tycoon, author F. Scott Fitzgerald remarked “there are no second acts in American lives.”
Eloquent with prose, Fitzgerald established himself as one of the finest voices of early American literature. But in all fairness, he didn’t know shit about combat sports, or former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski, who is set to commence his second act with the promotion, this Saturday at UFC 174.
Besides, Arlovski, a hard-hitting boxer and Sambo master, hails from Minsk, Belarus, where his vicious right hand and slick submissions remain immune from Fitzgerald’s American cultural assessment.
For anyone unfamiliar with Arlovski, he burst onto the international MMA circuit in November 2000, at UFC 28, three months prior to the historic buyout that saw Zuffa take the company reins from the Semaphore Entertainment Group, submitting fighter-turned-pornstar Aaron Brink in less than a minute.
And while Arlovski’s most important career victory, a first round Achilles lock over Tim Sylvia to win the UFC heavyweight title, also came via submission, he solidified himself as a fan favorite on account of his devastating knockouts.
After successfully defending the heavyweight strap on two occasions, Arlovski would eventually relinquish the championship to Sylvia and lose the rubber match of their Octagon trilogy. The Belarusian then went on to collect three more wins inside the UFC, including a unanimous decision over current number-one contender Fabricio Werdum, before fleeing the promotion for the financially flush shores of Affliction and Elite XC.
Arlovski v Fedor Emelianenko in 2009
Initially, Arlovski’s split from the UFC seemed like a home run, as he tallied highlight-reel-worthy knockouts of the oft-iron-chinned Ben Rothwell and Roy Nelson. MMA fanatics clamored to watch Arlovski’s savage performances, but eventually he would fall from grace, betrayed by his own jaw during a four-fight skid, three of which came via KO.
If Arlovski’s initial UFC run was the opening scene of his story arc, his career was definitely in crisis following a first-round knockout loss to Sergei Kharitonov. The “Pit Bull” had lost his swagger; however, this dog was certainly not out of the fight, yet.
Regrouping and fighting on smaller stages like ProElite, ONEFC, World Series of Fighting, and Fight Nights, a Russian promotion, Arlovski once again found his way, winning six of seven bouts (along with a No Contest in his fourth matchup with Sylvia) returning to the brutal finishing form that he had once been known for.
With the tension now mounting as he enters this second act of his UFC life, Arlovski appears committed to answering all questions surrounding his brittle chin and mid-career slide. But one aspect of his game that has never been in doubt is his penchant for delivering exciting performances.
Arlovski has always been the type of mixed martial artist who goes all in, kill or be killed. Finishing 85-percent of his career victories via knockout or submission, he has only topped the judges scorecard on three occasions. And as for his losses, well, Arlovski has been the victim of a number of torturous KOs, which has obviously never helped his record, but has certainly given MMA fans something to appreciate and gawk at.
Pundits will certainly look to Arlovski’s age and athletic mileage, and claim that his current win streak is an aberration and the result of facing weaker competition. However, history has already proven that UFC outcasts can return home, to the Octagon, and perform at the highest level.
Arlovski v Fabricio Werdum in 2007
Just last year, another former UFC heavyweight champion in his mid thirties, Josh Barnett, made a comeback of his own, albeit after an even longer layoff. Out of UFC action for over a decade, Barnett stormed the Octagon with aplomb, knocking out Frank Mir, setting a fair precedent for Arlovski’s realistic chances of success come Saturday.
Of course, questions still remain surrounding Arlovski’s chin, especially after suffering a broken jaw just one year ago while fighting Anthony Johnson, another UFC castoff who successfully re-emerged inside the Octagon. But the obvious irony behind the criticism of Arlovski’s fragility is that Schaub’s chin has been labeled soft as well, with two of his three knockout losses coming to former Arlovski victims, Nelson and Rothwell.
Back in 2011, it seemed like the narrative arc of Andrei Arlovski’s career had already hit its climax, reaching the denouement and twilight victory lap. But with his second act in the UFC on the horizon, it’s possible, just possible, that Arlovski is still climbing toward that apex and preparing to make some heads roll with the ruthless right hand that delivered so many of mixed martial arts’ most memorable knockouts.
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