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Andrei Arlovski is back from the brink, but he still faces an uphill battle
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Andrei Arlovski is back from the brink, but he still faces an uphill battle

Alistair Overeem (L) of the Netherlands and Andrei Arlovski of Belarus compete in their Heavyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night 87 at Ahoy on May 8, 2016 in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

UFC 222 marks the 43rd chapter in the storied career of Andrei Arlovski, as he goes up against the ever tricky Stefan Struve. But as the Belarusian brute edges closer to 40 every day, whilst seemingly racking up a nasty KO loss every few months, many have written off the former champ as a weary has-been. Nevertheless, Arlovksi is as motivated as ever, and he heads into this Saturday with every intention of maintaining his place as one of the staples of the heavyweight division.

The veteran is back on the front line

Andrei Arlovski has, to the truest extent, seen it all in the fight business. He spent most of the noughties at the very top of the game, getting in there with and more-than-often beating the best, which led him to the UFC heavyweight title in 2005. But since defending his gold twice in that same year, “The Pit Bull” has struggled to achieve the excellence that is required at the pinnacle of MMA.

Across his two stints in the UFC, as well as other organizations such as Strikeforce and World Series of Fighting, Arlovski has repeatedly found himself on impressive winning streaks followed by sigh-inducing skids. And whilst he did pick up a win in his last outing against Junior Albini, his form before that is a perfect symbol of the various peaks and troughs of his career. Before defeating Albini, he had lost five in a row, all of which were devastating finishes with the exception of a unanimous decision loss to Marcin Tybura. But prior to this torrid year-and-a-half, Arlovksi registered six wins in a row, which brought him to within touching distance of a title shot.

It is this susceptibility to follow the momentum that has fans sitting up and taking interest in Arlovksi this weekend. Because whilst he may linger in the lowly depths of the heavyweight division now, it is not inconceivable to imagine him getting back into title contention. Yes, he is getting up there in age. Yes, his nose is desperate for the big right hands to stop walloping it. And yes, the game has evolved since his heyday. But such is the painful shallowness of the weight class, any man that strings some wins together will absolutely find himself clambering up the rankings. And if history is anything to go by, Andrei Arlovski is one man that loves to string wins together.

Scaling the skyscraper

Unfortunately, Arlovksi faces a tough task in his quest to get back up and running in the 7ft tall, gangly shape of Stefan Struve. Perhaps the most appropriately nicknamed fighter in the UFC, “The Skyscraper” is equally excited to get back in the Octagon after dropping a TKO loss to Alexander Volkov on home soil last September. In stark contrast to his opponent, Struve has been consistently inconsistent during his tenure in the UFC and has never really managed to stake a serious claim for a title shot. It is now as good a time as ever for the Dutchman to put it all together and show the world that, at just 30 years of age, the best is yet to come.

However, with age comes experience, and that could be a decisive factor for the 39-year-old Arlovski this weekend. Struve is by no means ‘green’ in comparison to Arlovski (he has just five fewer bouts in the UFC), but one does not simply start throwing punches at Fedor Emelianenko without picking up a thing or two. Again, that is not to say that Struve, who is one of only two men to have ever beaten the heavyweight king Stipe Miocic, hasn’t been in there with the best.

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Quite simply, it means that Arlovksi has had just that little bit more time to learn how to spot the footwork patterns, see the flinch in the shoulder before the jab and catch the slightest hint of a level change. If “The Pit Bull” is to get it done in Las Vegas this weekend, he has to roll the dice and be confident in his fight IQ. It’ll be the minuscule nuances that will give him the edge, and he must use these to his advantage if he is to overcome the stifling reach and presence of Struve.

Is this farewell?

Through no fault of his own, Arlovski has taken the inevitable trip down the road of hard-to-watch knockouts and lackluster performances that every fighter will eventually endure. But, for better or worse, he has stated that the end is not yet in sight. Speaking to Ariel Helwani during the UFC 22 media day, the #12 ranked heavyweight said “[I want to do this for] a few more years. Until my management team gets me a good contract, I’m gonna keep fighting.”

And so this Saturday shall not be the swan song, but rather one more entertaining fistfight to add to the collection. A self-admitted ‘old guy’, Arlovksi truly is one of a dying breed, which is why we now more than ever have to appreciate him for the tough, do-or-die animal that he is. Tune in people, it’ll be a good one.

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