Andrei Arlovski has been away from the octagon so long that some new UFC fans might not know who he is, or even that he’s a former champion.
Still, wherever “The Pitbull” fights, he headlines. There’s a history there to promote.
“I guess I’m just lucky,” Arlovski (30-10) joked while speaking to MMAjunkie.com Radio.
When Arlovski last competed in the UFC in 2008, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira won an interim strap that was created when Randy Couture turned down a fight with “Big Nog” after suddenly retiring from the promotion. Brock Lesnar had just made his debut.
Now, the division is topped by two dominant heavyweights – champ Cain Velasquez and ex-titleholder Junior dos Santos – who appear to be a cut above everyone else (and next month, decide who’s No. 1). But that might not be the case if Arlovski’s frequent sparring partner, light-heavyweight champ Jon Jones, decides to move up to the division.
Time is not on Arlovski’s side. He just turned 34 and will fight his 31st professional MMA bout when he meets UFC vet Mike Kyle (20-9-1) at World Series of Fighting 5, which takes place Saturday at Revel Atlantic City in New Jersey. (Main-card fights air live on NBC Sports Network following prelims on MMAjunkie.com.)
Arlovski, though, is still heavily invested in a comeback he hopes will land him back with the industry-leader, or if nothing else, put another title in his custody. He still works with one of the top MMA camps in the world at Jackson-Winkeljohn’s MMA in Albuquerque, N.M., and rubs shoulders with Jones and a bevy of other top fighters. Training close to champions, after all, is the age-old strategy for becoming one.
Or, in his case, becoming one again.
“I have only one personal goal: a champion’s belt around my waist, and that’s it,” said Arlovski. “I will do everything possible to be champion again, and I will do everything possible. That’s why I train with Greg Jackson and other top fighters in MMA. Greg and other coaches helps me every day to reach my goal.
“I understand I have a long, long way, but every day, I’m taking a step. Another big step is fighting against Mike Kyle.”
Kyle, 33, shares Arlovski’s reputation for taking as many knockouts as given, so Arlovski stands to add some footage to his aging highlight reel or go back, as he has so many times, to the drawing board. A recent headliner against former welterweight Anthony Johnson, whom he replaced to fight Kyle, led to a decision loss that derailed his return to glory.
While Arlovski won his last three fights in the UFC, he did not renew his contract and left for greener pastures in a then-crowded field of competitors. He won his first two bouts outside the UFC, but then went on a four-fight slump that took his career to the brink of extinction.
Yet it’s not impossible that Arlovski could close out his WSOF contract and return to the octagon. His current deal already allows him to fight in other promotions to stay sharp.
“It’s the main goal,” Arlovski said. “UFC has the best heavyweight division right now. But my first step is a victory over Mike, so I’m looking forward to Sept. 14, and we’ll see what happens after. But the UFC is the best organization in MMA right now.”
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