Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight strap-hanger, Andrei Arlovski, will have a chance to avenge a 2010 loss to former title challenger, Antonio Silva, this Saturday night (Sept. 13, 2014) on Fight Pass at the Ginasio Nilson Nelson in Brasilia, Brazil.
After choosing not to re-sign with the UFC in 2008, Arlovski traveled the mixed martial arts (MMA) circuit. Though he endured a dark two-year stretch beginning in 2009 -- in which he suffered three knockouts and his decision loss to "Bigfoot" -- Arlovski recovered and earned himself a spot back on the UFC roster.
In his return, Arlovski failed to execute against Brendan Schaub, rarely committing to any strikes. Somehow, Arlovski was awarded the split decision in an utterly uneventful fight and will look to erase that memory by destroying Silva. Can "Pitbull" perform in his rematch against "Bigfoot?"
Let's find out.
Arlovski is one the heavyweight division's sharper strikers. His began training both kickboxing and Sambo as a teenager, and his skills have been sharpened over the years by trainers like Mike Winkeljohn and Freddie Roach.
Though Arlovski has a quick, spearing jab, he primarily relies on his right hand. The Belarusian packs intense power into his right hand and knows it, so he throws it often. In general, Arlovski does a good job moving his head off the center line when he attacks with his power hand.
Arlovski frequently leads with his straight right and overhand. "Pitbull" has both a hand speed and overall quickness advantage over most heavyweights, which allows him to lead with his power hand so frequently. Plus, he explodes into the punch quite well, allowing him to close the distance quickly.
After beginning his combination with the right, Arlovski will mix in a left hook. Then, he'll usually finish the combination with another right hand. In order to prevent himself from becoming predictable and counter his opponent's movement, he often will switch to a right uppercut after landing the overhand earlier in the combination.
Arlovski's combination of the overhand and right uppercut is devastating. He usually establishes the overhand first and then catches his foe ducking down, but it works both ways. As his opponent moves to avoid the one strike, Arlovski lands the second with additional power.
This double threat allowed Arlovski to finish two of the best heavyweight chins in the sport, as both Roy Nelson and Ben Rothwell were overwhelmed by Arlovski's flurries. In each finish, Arlovski was firing off a large number of punches at his hurt foe. Eventually, an overhand or uppercut sealed the deal, as it connected cleanly after being set up by the other strike.
Finally, Arlovski will often look to counter with the straight right hand. Though he sometimes looks to come over his opponent's jab for a cross counter, he usually cuts straight through his opponent's looping shots. Even against Fedor Emelianenko -- the king of corkscrewing overhands -- Arlovski was able to counter "The Last Emperor" early and often with his straight right hand and speed advantage.
In addition to his boxing, Arlovski has an excellent kicking game that he simply does not utilize enough. His leg kicks are particularly devastating, as "Pitbull" is capable of ripping apart both the inside and outside of his opponent's legs. Plus, he occasionally darts in with punches after knocking his opponent off balance with a low kick, an excellent technique that is difficult to counter.
It does seem that Arlovski has been throwing a few more kicks to the head and body as of late. He finished Travis Fulton with a beautiful switch high kick a couple years back, and he has added front kicks into his game. If Arlovski were to fully utilize his kicking ability, it would go a long way towards making him an elite heavyweight once again.
Possessing seven career knockout losses, it's clear that Arlovski has some defensive issues. It obviously doesn't help that heavyweights hit damn hard, but "Pitbull" sometimes makes their job far too easy. The most severe issue is that when Arlovski does not plant his feet and counter, he backs straight up, often with his hands down.
That's a recipe for disaster.
Additionally, Arlovski often freezes up after getting clocked. That's not as bad as simply crumbling after getting punched hard, but it's hardly a good thing. It's far too common for Arlovski to swallow a hard shot, survive the hit, but absorb another dozen strikes as he regains his wits.
As an International Master of Sports in Sambo, Arlovski is a talented wrestler. He's usually in excellent physical conditioning as well, meaning that even larger heavyweights have a difficult time out-muscling him.
Arlovski attempts takedowns only on rare occasion. He does not often shoot for a double and prefers to do his work from the clinch. Usually, Arlovski will secure a body lock from the over-under or double under position, drive forward, and attempt an outside trip. Or, he'll simply put a lot of pressure on his opponent's hips without the trip.
The Belarusian is a pretty strong counter-wrestler as well. It helps a lot that Arlovski has powerful hips and keeps his feet under him when he punches, rather than getting off balance. That alone allows Arlovski to stuff a majority of the double leg takedowns that come his way.
Inside the clinch, Arlovski's Sambo background often keeps him upright. He usually plays defensive when his back is to the fence, merely fighting off his opponent's underhooks until an opportunity to push away comes along. Occasionally, Arlovski will transition into a double collar tie to land some knees before exiting the clinch.
For the most part, Arlovksi only gives up takedowns when his opponent gets in on his hips along the fence. Both "Bigfoot" Silva and Anthony Johnson managed to take down Arlovski from that position, as Arlovski does not always fight the underhooks well when his foe is deep on the shot.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
In over 30 career fights, Arlovski has finished a mere three opponents via submission and has yet to be finished himself. Though he has legitimate Sambo credentials, Arlovski's fights rarely hit the mat.
And when they do, Arlovski is content to pound away at his opponent with hard punches.
However, Arlovski did pull off a beautiful straight footlock (or Achilles lock) in his first championship bout with Tim Sylvia. After dropping "The Maine-iac" with his right hand, Arlovski latched onto one of Sylvia's feet and fell back. Arlovski then draped his outside leg across Sylvia's trapped leg, preventing Sylvia from sitting up and relieving the pressure. From this position, Arlovski turn onto side that Sylvia's foot was trapped. This puts all of Arlovski's weight on top of the ankle in addition to "Pitbull's" squeeze.
In just 47 seconds, Sylvia tapped out.
Unlike the heel hook, the straight footlock does not do serious ligament damage, which is why it is legal inside most beginner grappling tournaments. However, it can crush some of the smaller bones in the foot and, rarely, the ankle itself. Overall, it is a pain move that tests the receivers tolerance.
Sylvia, despite his public reputation, is a legitimately tough fighter. The fact that Arlovski forced him to submit to a straight footlock should key fans in on just how deadly Arlovski is with this technique.
Outside of his footlock finish, Arlovski has demonstrated a strong defensive full guard. He doesn't look to sweep or submit, but Arlovski is able to defend passes and strikes while occasionally delivering an elbow from the bottom. Then, he'll put his feet in the hips and kick in search of an opportunity to stand up.
Best chance for success
Arlovski lost to Silva in their fight for primarily one reason: he allowed Silva to dictate the exchanges. Thus, Silva landed first, closed the distance easily, and Arlovski never found his range. This was during Arlovski's slide, so it might just have been a confidence issue.
Which makes his recent performance against Schaub worrying.
If Arlovski is able to push forward early, he's likely to do much better. Silva is no defensive prodigy himself, and Arlovski undoubtedly has a speed and power advantage. Should Arlovski be the aggressor while staying composed, he'll be able to find Silva's chin often and repel his attempts to grapple with damage.
Furthermore, Arlovski cannot let Silva control the kicking game. Both men have powerful, if underutilized, kicks. Arlovski definitely has the speed to sneak in some inside low kicks or quick push kicks without being counter so long as he sets them up and commits.
If Arlovski has his confidence on fight night, this fight will likely be extremely competitive.
Will Arlovski overcome the odds, or can Silva prove he's the better man once more?