Kenny Rice – “ANDREI ARLOVSKI COMEBACK FIGHTER OF THE YEAR”

RKheadshotToo bad about former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski. It didn’t and shouldn’t end this way, another knockout loss, no signs of the former fluid, quick striker. Instead a man, even at a still young age who stayed too long, perhaps too stubborn to recognize he was past his prime.

That would’ve been the take after he lost via KO to Sergei Kharitonev on February 12, 2011. It was his fourth straight and third time being knocked out in some form beginning with a flat out cold KO from the powerful Fedor Emelinenko. There was speculation that even Arlovski felt needed to be addressed on a web cam rebuttal that too much damage had been done to his head. It was indeed over.

BUT WAIT, there is more. As it turns out so much more, close to unprecedented standards.

Even LL Cool J would call this a comeback after Arlovski knocked out Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in the first round. His second win in as many tries since returning to the UFC, almost six years after a split from the organization. Not only is he back, but in the top 10 heavyweight rankings as well. It isn’t out of the realm of possibilities that another title shot could be in the future.

To pick one moment to get him back to this place is difficult, but it’s interesting to note he is 6-1 since a No Contest with a bitter rival and former UFC champ Tim Sylvia. The fight happened in 2012 in the Philippines at One FC. Arlovski and Sylvia continued their well documented feud with Arlovski dominating the fight, knocking Sylvia down and just seconds away from certain victory he delivered an illegal kick. Maybe it was frustration, anger, or he wasn’t aware of it wasn’t allowable under the very liberal One FC rules. Whatever the reasons, since that night in Manilla “The Pitbull” has done little wrong.

Much like the nickname, as a tribute to his pit bull and the others in that breed that he has generously donated time and money via public relation commercials and rescue efforts and anti-fighting campaigns, there is no quit in Arlovski and a deeper side reaching beyond the violent nature of the sport. After defeating Mike Kyle in the World Series of Fighting last year in Atlantic City, I rode back to the Philadelphia airport with renowned coach Greg Jackson who talked about the laser focus Arlovski had again, how he had to be told “to take a break in the gym, he goes so hard.” Andrei himself had a spark in his eye again, saying after the fight he was rejuvenated and there was purpose in all of his training.

That WSOF victory came after his only loss in this current hot streak, suffering a broken jaw from an Anthony Johnson punch, and dropping an unanimous decision. A fight that had controversy, after it was discovered several rounds exceeded the five minute limit due to timing error and the blow that cracked his face might have come after additional time in the round. That moment also identifies the traits he possesses, the obvious toughness to fight on with a fractured jaw, but more important the demeanor to not dwell on the clock malfunction.

He hasn’t allowed himself to get caught up in the what-might-have-beens, including the ill advised decision to attack Fedor with a flying knee after he had puzzled and flustered the Russian legend with solid boxing in their Affliction fight. Fedor needed just a swooping right just as Arlovski was sailing in and in a flash, the fight was over. One punch, another Fedor win. The Hall of Fame boxing trainer Freddie Roach had worked with Arlovski leading up to the fight and praised him for his dedication. He told me later “Andrei had done everything right in that first round, all the work was showing and then when he went in for that knee, got away from boxing Fedor, well you just knew it wasn’t going to work.”

Like Jackson and Roach and almost everyone else who has worked with Arlovski over his career, the same words always seem to pop up in describing him: tireless, hard worker, purposeful, tenacious. Everything needed to mount what could be an unprecedented return to the elite level. Fighters have had devastating losses and career threatening injuries, and have come back to have their hands raised in the octagon. But given the time frame and the series of knockouts that have been the demise of other esteemed fighters, Arlovski’s return to the UFC is special.

If this isn’t the comeback of all time, and that can be debated, it is definitely the comeback of this year.

-Kenny

Got something you’re burning on? Tell the man himself on Kenny Rice’s Twitter or Facebook page. Watch Kennyalong with Bas Rutten, LIVE on “Inside MMA” Fridays on AXS TV! Check out Kenny’s book “Not Hit Yet,” an insider look at the MMA world.


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