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The Fall of Arlovski

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PdW2kX Examines the Missteps and Possible Comeback of Andrei "The Pitbull" Arlovski

(Author’s Note: This article had been planned since Strikeforce: “Heavy Artillery” but was pushed back due to scheduling issues.)

It’s a tough time to be a fan of Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski. Two of his last three fights have seen him on the receiving end of vicious knockouts, with his last fight causing many to wonder just how many years Arlovski has left in a sport that, like so many other former champions, may have finally caught up to his level of skill and, in fact, passed him by. Perhaps the only thing ironic about this entire situation is that, for the most part, Arlovski remains one of the most popular Mixed Martial Artists actively competing- his ovation at Strikeforce: “Heavy Artillery” easily surpassed any of his fellow fighters. Arlovski also remains one of the most marketable fighters in the sport- as seen during his “Heavy Artillery” entrance, Arlovski may be the first and only fighter to ever land famed clothing company Dolce & Gabbana as a sponsor. So where did it all go wrong, and more importantly, how and why? Does Arlovski still have enough left in him to turn things around in the face of a three-fight losing streak, or will his popularity and marketability truly be put to the test as Arlovski continues his free-fall from the Heavyweight rankings?

To start, let’s examine what put Andrei into the dubious position of, according to his detractors, a past-his-prime relic of what the Heavyweight division used to be. Andrei Arlovski is a former UFC Heavyweight Champion, and for good reason: when he’s firing on all cylinders he was and perhaps still is one of the deadliest strikers in the Heavyweight division. Whether it’s a one-hit punch that lands flush or a barrage that his opponent has no answer for, time and time again it’s been proven that Arlovski’s hands are his most dangerous weapons. However, his hands have only recently become the one and only weapon in his arsenal that Arlovski actually uses. Using his Sambo expertise as a base, Arlvoski’s Ground and Pound was an effective tool that more often than not worked to his advantage, and despite having relatively little submission skills, who can forget his forty-seven second submission win over Tim Sylvia? So Arlovski has always been a highly regarded fighter. But that’s only one side of the coin. Arlovski’s personality and marketability is also one of the main reasons he remains so popular.

To put it plainly, Arlovski is a man of many faces. In the minutes before a fight gets underway, his menacing snarl is as famous a pre-fight ritual as any, and remains one of the scariest things you could possibly see before a fight this side of Wanderlei Silva spinning his fists at you. But put him in a suit and have him crack a grin, and he puts most male models to shame. Arlovski is simply a man that looks good in anything, doing anything. However, his easy marketability is only half of the equation. Soft-spoken and eloquent, Arlovski has continuously called the fans to his side with his heart-felt interviews and videos. Whether in defeat or victory, Arlovski always comes across as a true class act. Once fully examined, it’s quite easy to see why Arlovski has continuously proven so popular. Surprisingly enough, the main reasons behind his swift fall from grace are equally as easy to see.

Ever since the Fedor Emelianenko fight, Arlovski has been so wary of making another mistake that he no longer takes any chances. I believe the stupidity of the flying knee he attempted, which resulted in what many consider the 2009 Knockout of the Year, heavily weighs on his mind to this very day. Arlovski isn’t the first fighter guilty of playing it safe after being on the receiving end of a brutal knockout, but that doesn’t erase the fact that his ability to take chances and capitalize on them was one of the biggest reasons he became a UFC champion, even if said chances sometimes didn’t work out in the end. Against Antonio Silva, Arlovski looked downright timid, which allowed “Bigfoot” to beat a man widely regarded as several levels above him.

Another factor that may continue to hold Arlovski back is his heavy reliance on his new striking style, one which closely mirrors that of a traditional boxer. In the Antonio Silva fight, it was as if Arlovski temporarily forgot what sport he’s competing in. Many boxing pundits swear up and down that the “sweet science” is far more technical in its striking than Mixed Martial Arts, but Arlovski’s lumbering, see-it-a-mile-away punching style was easily countered again and again by “Bigfoot”, who has only just recently evolved from his days of blind bull-rushing and go-for-broke flurries. Silva has power in both hands and his finesse grows with every fight, but at the end of the day, a smart and focused Andrei Arlovski should have picked him apart.

So what can Arlovski do to turn this all around? The first and most important thing for him to do is to realize that he can. It’s only been four years since Arlovski bounced back from a two-fight losing streak to chain together five wins so impressive that they earned him a shot at arguably the greatest Mixed Martial Artist of all time. And while Arlovski may be facing a steeper incline this time, he’s climbed this hill before. No one can question Arlovski’s dedication, will to succeed, and drive to become one of the best Heavyweights in the business. And as the saying goes, everybody loves a comeback.

The main thing Arlovski must do in order to achieve greatness once again is to go back to his roots. His heavy focus on striking as a boxer will only keep backfiring on him. In the Fedor Emelianenko fight, he used his new training to develop his counter-striking to an incredible level, putting on one of the best performances of his career before being brutally knocked out due to one stupid mistake. In a world where the Heavyweight division continues to see an influx of hulking behemoths with incredible speed and dynamite in their hands, Arlovski’s former approach of striking smarter, not harder, would go a long way towards making a comeback a reality.

And finally, Arlovski has to once again learn to take chances in his fights, even though he must also learn to avoid taking stupid, unnecessary risks. The hard part will be learning how to distinguish a calculated risk from an unnecessary one. It’s a slippery slope when we begin discussing the line between an acceptable chance and an unnecessary risk, so all I’ll say is this: if he can keep a level head during his fights, knowing when to pull the trigger and then actually pulling the trigger will result in far more victories than his current “play it safe” gameplan ever could.

As a very big fan of Andrei Arlovski, it really does sadden me to see him like this. I still think Arlovski is a dangerous striker, ridiculously marketable, and incredibly easy to like. His personality as well as his fighting ability has made him one of the most popular fighters fighting today, even in the midst of a career-high losing streak. And while it may take a while for the comeback train to get rolling, I can still see a world where Arlovski is competing at a championship level. The fall of Arlovski may in fact just be the latest series of setbacks that motivate him to once again become better than ever. Only time will tell, but you can be sure of one thing: when “the Pitbull” steps back into the Strikeforce cage, I’ll be watching. And hoping.

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