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COVID-19 claims life of UFC pioneer Paul Varelans

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“The Polar Bear” competed for the UFC through multiple tournaments in 1995 and 1996, becoming a fan favorite.

Paul Varelans, one of the pioneers of early “No Holds Barred” fighting, has died of COVID-19 at the age of 51 years old.

Varelans was an old school Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) veteran who fought at UFC 6, 7, 8, and in the first two “Ultimate Ultimate” tournaments. Nicknamed “The Polar Bear” because of his 6’8” stature and home state of Alaska, Varelans was a fierce competitor who lived and died by the sword in the Octagon. He made it to the finals of the UFC 7 tournament, losing to Marco Ruas via vicious leg kicks. He also competed in other mixed martial arts (MMA) proto-promotions like IRC, WVC, Extreme Challenge, Pancrase and Rings.

“I have never felt so sick in my life, going to get tested today,” Varelans wrote on his Facebook page on Dec. 10, 2020. “Actually this is how I felt before UFC 7 when I had flu. I hope it’s a flu. Either way it’s time for raw garlic and shit loads of grapefruit.”

“So its official I am COVID-19 positive. And feel like hell,” he wrote on Dec. 12. 2020. “Best way I can compare the feel of COVID-19 in my experience is it’s like fighting a guy who specializes in kidney punches they never stop coming”.

Varelans was hospitalized immediately and his condition quickly deteriorated until he was put into a medically-induced coma and placed on a ventilator.

“Paul recovered up to 50 percent of his own breathing by Christmas day, but then he started to fight the ventilator,” one post reported on Dec. 26, 2020. “He’s having some other issues and they put the ventilator back to doing 100 percent of the work. He’s a giant, so it’s taking 8 people to flip him safely to keep his blood from pooling, but the dialysis is continuing to do its job. He’s still deep in a medically-induced coma and fighting the biggest fight of his life.”

Paul was “back up to 70 percent his own breathing today,” one friend wrote on Dec. 30, 2020. “Which is awesome, but doctors say we need to be “cautiously optimistic” as he’s been up to 40 and 60 percent of his own power to only be reduced back to 0 percent before already. So he is steadily showing some signs of improvement only to relapse for a bit.”

He died on Sat., Jan. 16, 2021.