Once upon a time, a heavyweight fighter named Andrei huffed and puffed …
There once was a man from Belarus …
Hmm. Neither fairy tale nor limerick quite captures the twisted timelessness of life among the big boys in mixed martial arts. There is something folkloric about the fables that unfold when two heavyweights stuff themselves inside an octagonal cage.
The rules are different. Not the rules of engagement -- you still can’t kick a guy (in the head) when he’s down -- but the rules of nature. Fighting careers that have been pronounced dead somehow always have a last gasp left in them. Those that appeared to be on an upswing end up down and out.
Gravity always has its way. Someone falls, without fail. Yet with heavyweights the physics often defy calculation, with the guy who was expected to be the last man standing instead ending up being stood over by referee, doctor, and a foe trying to mask his surprise at being triumphant.
Consider the case of the Belarusian mentioned above. That’s Andrei Arlovski, whom you might remember as the former UFC heavyweight champion. Or you might not remember. You might have been in diapers when the attack dog known as “The Pit Bull” had the interim title belt wrapped around his waist following a February 2005 submission of Tim Sylvia. Arlovski defended the faux strap twice before the UFC elevated him to its real championship later that year, as belt holder Frank Mir had not recovered from injuries sustained in a motorcycle crash.
So even Arlovski’s greatest glory was won not in the cage fight but in a roadway collision. And things swiftly went downhill. Andrei lost the title in his first real defense, dropping a rematch with Sylvia via first-round knockout. “The Maine-iac” then beat him again. And Arlovski never again was considered an elite heavyweight.
Sure, he did beat Fabricio Werdum, who in November will go for the UFC belt, Ben Rothwell, and Roy Nelson. But a three-minute KO at the hands of Fedor Emelianenko brought any of his momentum to a screeching halt. It was the first of four straight losses.
Still, Arlovski is a heavyweight, and the UFC always needs competent heavyweights. So after he went through eight minor-league fights with only one loss, Andrei found himself back in the behemoth organization earlier this year. And after a closely fought but not especially heart-pounding split-decision decision win in June over a fellow man on the fringe, Brendon Schaub, Arlovski was inserted into a main event.
Rather than “inserted into,” maybe it would be more in the spirit of the booking to say Andre was fed to the main event. Saturday’s Fight Night card was in Brasilia, Brazil, and his opponent was Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, who is from Brasilia, Brazil. Through 24 previous professional MMA bouts, Silva had never competed in his native country, much less his hometown. The former heavyweight title challenger is No. 8 in the SI.com heavyweight rankings, though fourth in the media-voted UFC tally. Arlovski is No. 14 in the UFC’s rankings, unranked by SI. This had all the makings of a hero’s welcome home for “Bigfoot.”
It didn’t quite work out that way. The crowd that had been thunderous in greeting its native son sat in silence minutes later when Silva lay motionless at the center of the cage, being attended to by officials and cornermen. He’d just been cleanly knocked out by an Arlovski barrage of right hands -- one that lowered his guard, one that sent him crumbling to the canvas, and five hammerfists that finished him off. The fight lasted only 2:59.
And so the UFC heavyweight division has a new contender. Sort of. Arlovski (23-10, 1 NC) did look revitalized, his footwork and crisp punching showing the refinement of work with trainer Mike Winkeljohn. But does anybody believe that this 35-year-old warhorse can withstand the rigors of standing in with Cain Velasquez? Andrei beat the glacial “Bigfoot” to the punch all night, but Silva (18-6, 1 NC) was fighting without testosterone replacement therapy for the first time in a long time, and he was rusty from having served a nine-month suspension because of a failed drug test.
Arlovski, it seems, got a hold of Silva at just the right time.
Which points toward a matchup that sounds a lot less homicidal than Velasquez vs. Arlovski would be. Considering that “Bigfoot” was one of the four straight conquerors who sent Andrei’s career careering a few years ago, maybe their rivalry need not be over. Maybe it’s just getting started.
“It all went really fast, but this is how fights work,” Silva said after Saturday night’s cruel defeat. “Whoever has the opportunity first wins. Congratulations to Arlovski. He is a fighter that I respect a lot. Now it’s 1-1, each of us has one win. Maybe we can untie it in a next opportunity.”