Two of the sport’s most accomplished heavyweights find themselves on a collision course in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, even as the sun begins to set on their respective careers.
Andrei Arlovski will meet fellow former champion Josh Barnett in the UFC Fight Night 93 (online betting) main event on Saturday at Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, Germany. In the light heavyweight co-headliner, Swedish star Alexander Gustafsson locks horns with former KSW titleholder Jan Blachowicz. The rest of the four-fight main card features a light heavyweight tilt pitting “The Ultimate Fighter 8” winner Ryan Bader against Ilir Latifi and a lightweight affair matching German judoka Nick Hein with Tae Hyun Bang.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC Fight Night “Arlovski vs. Barnett” matchup, with analysis and picks:
HeavyweightsAndrei Arlovski (25-12) vs. Josh Barnett (34-8)
THE MATCHUP: If you needed any further proof that heavyweight MMA is unpredictable, look no further than these two men. Arlovski was expected to retire following a four-fight losing streak between 2009 and 2011, but he has since returned to form and compiled a 10-3 record with one confusing no-contest across his last 14 appearances. The old fears loom once again, however, as Arlovski is back on a skid and back on his opponents’ highlight reels. In 2016, he has been knocked out by Stipe Miocic and Alistair Overeem. Barnett, on the other hand, has been fighting for an eternity -- two years longer than Arlovski -- and remains near the top of the heavyweight heap. He was on his way back to contention when Ben Rothwell, a man known for his awkward power but not his submission prowess, choked out Barnett in the second round. It was the first time Barnett had ever been truly submitted. Now these big men meet at the crossroads to determine who will continue to defy the odds.
In his middle age, Arlovski has changed tacks. Once a very aggressive fighter, he is now more of a counterpuncher. Like his teammate Overeem, this change seems well-suited to Arlovski’s fragile chin. By hanging back and allowing his opponent to lead, Arlovski can safely deflect, block or evade strikes and save himself the embarrassment of running into one. Arlovski remains extremely dependent on his right hand, but the predictability matters less when he restricts himself to reactive punching.
Barnett has had to rely more on his own striking of late. “The Warmaster” has not completed a single takedown since his UFC return in 2013. Instead, he has thrived in the clinch, using hand fighting and head control to smash his opponent with short strikes. To get there, Barnett uses an underrated boxing game. He works a smart jab, tucking his chin behind elbows and shoulders as he eyes his openings. Barnett has been knocked out two times and once tapped to strikes, but he is undeniably more sturdy than Arlovski, who been knocked out nine times over the course of his career.
Barnett would love to get Arlovski on the ground, but the Belarusian’s cautious new style makes it harder than ever to take him down. This match should play out largely on the feet.
THE ODDS: Barnett (-150), Arlovski (+130)
THE PICK: Arlovski’s problems with Alistair Overeem were threefold: Overeem fought from long range, threw very little volume and hit Arlovski very, very hard. Barnett is not featherfisted, but it would take a fool to compare his power to Overeem’s. More to the point, however, is the fact that Barnett tends to come forward and throw volume. This approach has marked all of Barnett’s fights since his return to the UFC. In throwing out volume and looking for the clinch, Barnett will walk right into Arlovski’s range and right into his game. The “Pitbull” is a counterpuncher, and Barnett will give him plenty of opportunities to counter. The pick is Arlovski by first-round knockout.
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