The UFC’s heavyweight division just keeps producing comeback stories
Andrei Arlovski’s story is pretty remarkable. Ben Rothwell’s isn’t too bad, either.
The two fighters have bounced around from organization to organization. They were written off for various reasons. Both are likely past their primes. And now they’re also both ranked in the top 10.
Arlovski knocked out Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva in the first round last week in Brazil. Rothwell did the same to Alistair Overeem the week before in Connecticut. Welcome to the UFC’s heavyweight division in 2014 — where everything old is new again.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’ve all seen this before and under even more dramatic circumstances. When Mark Hunt sees Arlovski and Rothwell, he can barely relate.
"I wasn’t even wanted in this company," Hunt told FOX Sports. "I had to fight my way to get out of everything and fight my way into the top 10."
I wasn’t even wanted in this company. I had to fight my way to get out of everything and fight my way into the top 10.
True story. Hunt’s contract was part of the UFC’s purchase of PRIDE, but the UFC wasn’t really interested in him. At the time, he was 5-6 as a pro, a K-1 kickboxer masquerading as an MMA fighter. The UFC was ready to pay him out the rest of his contract and allow him to walk. Hunt refused. He wanted to prove himself in the Octagon.
That didn’t turn out so well. Hunt lost his UFC debut to Sean McCorkle by first-round submission in 2010, giving him two more losses than wins for his career.
So how in the world is a 40-year-old Hunt (9-8-1) fighting Roy Nelson in the main event of UFC Fight Night on Fight Pass on Saturday in Japan? He reeled off four wins in a row after falling to McCorkle, knocking out Chris Tuchsherer, Cheick Kongo and Stefan Struve. Hunt beat Rothwell by unanimous during that stretch, too.
"I’ve been down in the pits, of course, and I had to crawl my way out," Hunt said. "That’s just what fighters do. But in the heavyweight division you can do it with three straight wins."
He’s right. If you’re a fairly talented big man with dynamite in your fists, you’re really never very far out of title contention. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to see the winner of Hunt vs. Nelson fighting for the belt in 2015.
Nelson has been counted out, too. After losses to Jeff Monson and Arlovski on the independent circuit, "Big Country" had to enter into "The Ultimate Fighter" to try and get a UFC contract. He ended up winning the show in 2009 and now he’s one of the most popular heavyweights on the roster.
"I think [the heavyweight division] is the most dramatic and most exciting," the 38-year-old Nelson said. "One punch can change everything. The lighter guys, all they do is play tag like your little sister hit you and count that as effective."
Matt Mitrione made a good point two weeks ago after knocking out Derrick Lewis. The 36-year-old said heavyweights can last longer, because their skills are more predicated on punching power rather than athleticism. Usually, power is the last thing to go; speed and agility is first.
You won’t be seeing much of the latter two Saturday when Hunt and Nelson clash. But don’t blink. It might not be the most technical MMA, but the heavyweight division is rarely stingy when it comes to violence.
"The division is one punch, one knee, one anything can take someone out," Hunt said. "The division is not totally dominated by one person. There’s always an upset."
Champion Cain Velasquez is pretty secure at the top. But below him, it’s a bunch of hard-boiled veterans knocking each other silly left and right.
Nothing wrong with that.