LAS VEGAS — When Muay Thai coach Said Hatim began training Andrei Arlovski a few years ago, the former heavyweight world champion was regrouping after several consecutive losses. Perhaps more significantly, those losses were by way of nasty knockouts.
You only get so many chin touches as a fighter before you change forever. Each subsequent concussion brings the next one closer as damage is accumulated.
That’s the rough truth of the fight game. Incredibly, though, Arlovski not only managed to get back on the winning track, he went on to survive more wars without going out.
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Hatim is the first to explain that no one is impervious to getting knocked out, especially in MMA, and in the heavyweight division. However, it is not an accident that Arlovski’s durability improved, even as he got older.
In 2013, Arlovski had his jaw broken in the first round of a fight against Anthony Johnson (after the round, actually, thanks to a negligent referee who didn’t hear the horn sound), but didn’t go out. In fact, he fought on for two more rounds, forcing the fight to a decision.
In his most recent fight, the Belarusian engaged in a furious war with Travis Browne and survived getting dropped in the first round to score a knockout of his own. Though there’s no guarantees of the future, the Andrei Arlovski of the past three years was clearly more prepared to work through big punches than he was, even in his youth.
Hatim worked on the issue of durability from two fronts with Arlovski. One was a neck strengthening program for the fighter, and the other was a matter of working on his striking technique.
Andrei Arlovski (L) has absorbed some huge shots and continued to fight on, impressively, in recent years.
"Definitely conditioning makes a big difference," the coach told FOX Sports.
"Fighting smarter makes an even bigger difference, though. Anyone can get knocked out. It doesn’t matter if your jaw is strong or not. When you get on the right spot, you’re going down. That’s all."
A stronger neck is capable of supporting the head a bit better when it gets hit with big strikes. Sharper technique means that you’re better positioned when you do invariably get hit.
"Strength and conditioning of the neck helps but you’ve also got to put your head in the right place," Hatim explained.
"For example, you can’t always lean over your left knee when a punch is coming at you. There’s a lot of things that go into it."
Like all top fighters, Arlovski has worked hard to cover a lot of bases heading into UFC 191 this weekend. It’s good his coaching staff has been focused on being ready for the worst, though, because if his opponent Frank Mir’s recent fights are any indicators, he’s in for yet another violent war.