Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight kingpin, Andrei Arlovski, is set to do battle with fellow former champ and grappling ace, Josh Barnett, this Saturday (Sept. 3, 2016) night in the main event of UFC Fight Night 93 inside Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, Germany
Arlovski’s career renaissance following his disastrous Strikeforce run was really something to behold. After being written off by the entire mixed martial arts (MMA) world, Arlovski essentially won seven of his next eight bouts, earning another shot in the Octagon. Once back home, Arlovski worked his way into the Top 5 with four straight victories.
Unfortunately for the Belarusian, he’s now lost his last pair of bouts in fairly dominant fashion. The question has rose once more of whether Arlovski’s career is coming to an end or if "The Pitbull" can return to form once more.
Let’s take a closer look at the knockout artist’s skill set:
Arlovski is a very effective puncher with some tricks up his sleeve. While he spent some time training with Freddie Roach, Arlovski has found more success with rough-and-tumble MMA strategies, ones that revolve largely around his power punches.
To that end, his work with Team Jackson-Wink has done wonders.
Though Arlovski has a quick jab, he has been unable to successfully use it as a consistent weapon or as the focus of his game plan. Instead, Arlovski relies very heavily on his right hand. The Belarusian packs intense power into his right and is aware of his stopping power, so he throws it often. It’s not likely Heavyweight is full of defensive wizards; most men are usually there to be hit when trading in the pocket. Plus, Arlovski does a nice job of slipping his head off to the side when he throws, giving him an advantage in a straight firefight.
Arlovski frequently leads with his straight right and overhand (GIF). "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 (GIF). 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 (GIF). Eventually, an overhand or uppercut sealed the deal, as it connected cleanly after being set up by the other strike (GIF).
While this combination of right uppercut and cross also brought about Travis Browne's end, Arlovski showcased a new technique in that fight. After missing on his right hand, Arlovski would return to his stance with a back fist rather than a left hook. It turned out to be quicker and caught his opponent off-guard, dropping the Hawaiian striker (GIF).
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.
Besides his boxing attack, Arlovski does have a nasty kicking game that should be utilized more. 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 several years back, and he has added front kicks into his game.
Offensively, Arlovski’s biggest issue is that he can be stymied. His rushes can become a bit predictable, and a patient opponent can pick up upon his patterns and start to avoid his shots. For that reason, it would be wise for Arlovski to utilize his kicks more often, as Arlovski would no longer feel pressured to open himself up and attack if he were still doing damage while awaiting his opportunity.
Considering how many of Arlovski's defeats came via knockout, it's clear that he does have some defensive issues as well. Most problematic is that when Arlovski does not plant his feet and counter, he often backs straight up, occasionally with his hands down.
There's not much room for error at Heavyweight, and that's a big one.
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 become a bit common for Arlovski to swallow a hard shot and survive the hit, but absorb another dozen strikes as he regains his wits.
Between his Sambo experience and athleticism, Arlovski is historically a very difficult man to take down. Many men have tried to drag Arlovski to the mat, but there’s a reason he’s been able to stay upright and score 17 knockouts.
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.
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. Alternatively, Frank Mir actually did a really nice job picking his opportunities to shoot and was briefly successful on a couple of occasions, getting in on the shot when Arlovski was out of position. Similarly, Overeem was able to sneakily set up his entries into clinch takedowns.
In more than 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.
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 the 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 even 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. In his entire 17-year career, Arlovski has never been submitted, and there’s a reason for that.
Every fighter’s career comes to an end at some point, and Arlovski’s has already lasted far longer than most. On the heels of two straight knockout losses, things could very likely be coming to an end, as Arlovski has already tried to make his last run at the strap. In this bout, Arlovski is likely fighting for more than his UFC career. If he loses — and is potentially cut or "talked into retirement" — it’s hard to see him toiling in the regional scene for another chance. If he’s still to keep fighting at a high-level, Arlovski must win this bout.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an undefeated amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.