It seems like such a long time ago that Andrei Arlovski was the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight Champion and widely regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound mixed martial artists on the planet that I was surprised to discover he is still only 33.
To put that into perspective, despite everything the Belarusian has achieved in his career, he is still younger than Randy Couture was when he made his mixed martial arts (MMA) debut.
After winning his last two fights by stoppage to claim the Pro Elite heavyweight belt before signing with the biggest promotion in Asia, he is entitled to be upbeat about his future. Speaking exclusively at the press conference for ONE FC: 'Pride of a Nation,' Arlovski told MMAmania.com he expects to continue fighting for at least another seven years.
"I think I'm going to fight to age 40, if my mind, my body and my skill set let me fight, I will definitely fight until age 40. For a heavyweight I am still young at 33 and all my fights, all my victories, all my losses, I took experience from and I am doing what I like to do. I like to train hard and put on a big show and the most exciting thing is to have your arm raised in the arena."
Arlovski left the UFC on a three-fight winning streak and with a 10-4 record inside the Octagon, a decision which he says was made for 'business reasons.' He carried on where he left off by beating Ben Rothwell by decision and stopping Roy Nelson, the only fighter to ever manage this feat, but a loss to perhaps the greatest heavyweight of all time, Fedor Emelianenko, signaled the start of a four-fight losing streak.
Many were writing Arlovski off, but he has since turned things around with back-to-back stoppage wins and believes that he knows exactly what went wrong during that period and has taken the necessary action to ensure it doesn't happen again.
"I changed pretty much all my trainers and I changed my camp, now I train in Albuquerque with Greg Jackson. I made a mistake not coming to Greg Jackson's place after my Emelianenko fight. At the time, I was trying to please too many of my trainers. Now I changed my lifestyle, I am focused on my MMA career and to be a champion again is one of my goals."
Losing those fights made Arlovski assess not just his approach to MMA, but his entire way of living and he thinks that he has matured as both a person and a fighter as a result.
"Before the Emelianenko fight for me it wasn't a big deal to go to some nightclub and have a party, you know? It's not what I am doing right now, I have a beautiful fiancee who I am going to marry next year, I changed all my life. When you grow up your priorities are a little bit different, it's not like when I was 25, I have some life experience and I have people who have been with me through my victories and my losses. When I was champion I had a lot of people with me but now the people who are with me have been there for all my losses and I know they are my best friends."
Even for a fighter who has headlined numerous UFC cards and commanded million dollar paydays, Arlovski's next assignment is an exciting one. ONE FC: 'Pride of a Nation' is taking place in the same arena that Muhammad Ali once fought Joe Frazier and will be by far the biggest event in the history of Filipino MMA with the live audience expected to exceed 16,000 people.
The man standing between Arlovski and a third consecutive win is Australia's top heavyweight, Soa Palelei. The CFC veteran is riding a seven-fight win streak and has never been the distance in 20 fights, but Arlovski admits he doesn't know too much about him.
"I don't know who he is. I never saw his fights but Greg Jackson already did and he told me he was a great wrestler, a contender for the national Australian team, so he is definitely tough. He's a giant and I am not a giant, he's about 300 pounds, so it's going to be definitely very exciting, but at the same time a very difficult match for me."
One fighter who Arlovski does know is the most recognizable Filipino in the world, boxing's Manny Pacquiao. The two have actually sparred together, although not seriously, at Freddie Roach's Wild Card Gym in L.A. and Arlovski almost turned his back on MMA to pursue a career in professional boxing.
"I trained with Manny Pacquiao and we used to fool around in the ring sometimes. He’s a funny guy and he’s a great boxer. I signed a good deal with Oscar De Lay Hoya’s Golden Boy promotions but after my loss to Brett Rogers, they put my boxing carer on hold and I decided to move on, but I definitely want to do boxing one day."
The ONE FC press conference was very well attended and the prospect of a world class MMA promotion coming to Manila has clearly caught the imagination of the Filipino media. It is Arlovski's first time fighting in Asia and he is looking forward to playing his part in combat sports history.
"I know how big Manny Pacquiao is here and how big boxing is here and I am looking forward to creating fans of Arlovski and fans of MMA here. It's a great opportunity for me, I always wanted to fight in Asia and finally my dream is coming true."