In Brendan Schaub vs. Andrei Arlovski, version 2.0 aims to put prototype out to pasture
JUN 12, 2014 2:25p ET
Before there was Schaub, before there was dos Santos or Miocic, there was Arlovski. The original. The blueprint. The one who helped the fight world realize heavyweights weren't just about bulk. That athleticism, speed and footwork were not exclusively the domains of the smaller weight classes. That the big guys did not solely have to be about the power game.
It was several years into the UFC when this revelation came, delivered to us through a 21-year-old, 6-foot-4, 240-pound Belarussian. When he arrived, he was "Orlovskiy," described as a sambo specialist who spoke no English.
It took him 55 seconds to win his debut, with a lightning transition to an armbar during a scramble for position.
"That was unbelievable," UFC commentator Jeff Blantnick said at the time.
Blatnick had seen his share of unbelievable, himself a 1984 Olympic wrestling gold medalist. He was mostly right. Arlovski would go on to win the UFC championship, using a blend of power and finesse that had never been mixed quite that way by a UFC heavyweight.
He could bounce on the balls of his feet like a lightweight but throw thunder. He could wrestle and grapple and scramble. He was the hybrid before "The Hybrid."
"He kind of set the blueprint to where the division is at now," heavyweight Brendan Schaub told FOX Sports. "The day of the big man is kind of gone. It's more of the athletic, in-shape guys, not the biggest guys in the division taking over. I think Arlovski kind of set that blueprint. There was the day that guys like Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin and these monsters were ruling the world, but now if you look at the layout of the land, it's the quicker, more skilled guys taking over."
Before he ever started competing, Schaub was a fan watching in his living room, and his favorite fighter was Arlovski. And now that the original "Pitbull" is finally returning to the octagon after a six-year hiatus, Schaub will be the one to welcome him back at UFC 174.
For Arlovski, the game has come full circle. The version 2.0 he helped create now aims to put the prototype out to pasture.
"At that time, it was tough but now it's even tougher," Arlovski told FOX Sports. "There are some great heavyweights in the UFC division, and Brendan Schaub is one of them. He's a really dangerous opponent."
Arlovski's journey since leaving the UFC is a storied one filled with joy, disappointment and enrichment.
He left the promotion of his own volition in 2008 to test free agency at a time the sport was booming and rife with opportunity, and struck gold. In his first three fights away from the octagon, he made a disclosed total of $2,750,000, including a cool $1.5 million for his Affliction: Day of Reckoning fight against Fedor Emelianenko. The windfall gave him financial security, but he acknowledges that like many fighters before him, it robbed him of his motivation to work hard.
The fight with Emelianenko was the start of a downward spiral. He lost via KO but he could rationalize that; Emelianenko was considered the best heavyweight ever. But then he lost to Brett Rogers, and Antonio Silva, and Sergei Kharitonov. Most people assumed that at 32 years old, Arlovski was done as an elite performer.
“We do know this: if the Arlovski of 2005 shows up, he's going to get his ass whooped.”
"When you're on top of the world you have to be more focused and train even harder than before. I didn't," he said. "I'm a good example that you have to be focused all the time. When it's time to work, it's time to do it even harder than before. I didn't at that time. But I'm ready right now to start everything from the beginning."
His recent turnaround marked an act II in his career, losing only once in his last eight fights. It was a comeback he largely credits to his decision to train in Albuquerque under renowned coach Greg Jackson. Ironically, it was there in 2010 when he and Schaub met as occasional training partners during the early stretch of Schaub's UFC career.
"I'd grown up around MMA royalty," Schaub said. "My first camp I had Rashad Evans, Georges St-Pierre, Nate Marquardt, Shane Carwin and Keith Jardine. That was my posse. I grew up around royalty but when I went to Jacksons and Arlovski was there, it was really the first time I was star-struck a little bit."
Jackson helped Arlovski re-tool his game, and that union brought about an unlikely reunion. Arlvoski had left the UFC on good terms, but as time passed and his career twisted and turned, he'd been gone so long that it seemed as if every possible window for his return had been shut. This despite the fact that he would regularly get asked about the UFC when going about his everyday activities.
"Deep inside, I had a hope I'd be back," he said.
And then the call came. One more chance.
Things are very different now. The money isn't the same for Arlovski, and he's not ranked in the top 10. Can he hang with the new generation? Most of his opposition of the last eight fights were not name brands, and his one loss during that time came to Anthony Johnson, a legitimate fighter but also a light-heavyweight.
Schaub was among those rooting for his return, just as he'd always hoped the best for Arlovski. All these years later, he holds the same level of respect for the Belarussian who first graced the octagon almost 14 years ago. But that's where their interests must diverge.
To Schaub, and to everyone else, really, the Arlvoski of today is a mystery. He's a name, but does he have the goods to compete at the UFC level, among the hybrids that he unwittingly helped mold?
"I hope he's evolved, and he better hope he has, too," Schaub said. "Training at Jacksons with the likes of Travis Browne and Jon Jones and all these monsters, it will be interesting to see what kind of Arlovski we get. But we do know this: if the Arlovski of 2005 shows up, he's going to get his ass whooped."