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Andrei Arlovski has squeezed about as much juice out of his career as anyone but wants to see if he can squeeze out just a little bit more.
The former Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder will meet fast-rising prospect Tom Aspinall in a three-round heavyweight showcase at UFC Fight Night 185 this Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Arlovksi, who turned 42 on Feb. 4, enters the cage as the underdog but with momentum behind him, having rebounded from a 29-second knockout loss to Jairzinho Rozenstruik with back-to-back decisions over Philipe Lins and Tanner Boser. “The Pit Bull” finds himself one victory shy of becoming the seventh fighter in UFC history to join the 20-win club.
As Arlovski prepares for his battled with Aspinall, a look at some of the rivalries that have shaped his remarkable career:
Sylvia and Arlovski are attached at the hip historically by their three meetings—the heavyweight crown was on the line in all three—inside the Ultimate Fighting Championship. They faced one another at UFC 51 on Feb. 5, 2005, UFC 59 on April 15, 2006 and UFC 61 on July 8, 2006, with Sylvia holding a 2-1 edge in the head-to-head series. Perhaps it was fitting then that their story concluded half a world away under the One Championship banner in Quezon City, Philippines. There, at “Pride of a Nation” on Aug. 31, 2012, the two behemoths waged war for a fourth time and exceeded all expectations with an exhilarating first five minutes in which both men landed clean. Everything changed in the second round, where Arlovski cut loose with a violent three-punch combination that sent “The Maine-iac” to the canvas. In his haste to finish, the Belarusian uncorked two soccer kicks to his archrival’s head. However, referee Yuji Shamada failed to declare an “open attack”—a One Championship rule in which the official must declare it is safe to kick a downed opponent. As a result, the strikes were deemed illegal, and when Sylvia was not able to continue after a five-minute respite, the match was declared a no-contest.
Their paths never crossed in their prime, but Arlovski finally tangled with Mir in the UFC 191 co-main event on Sept. 5, 2015 and laid claim to a unanimous decision over his fellow former champion at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Scores were 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27, all for Arlovski. Much of the plodding and largely uneventful fight was spent in the clinch, where they exchanged knees, punches, elbows and positioning. From a distance, Arlovski pecked away with pawing jabs and straight rights while mixing in leg kicks and dodging the return fire. Mir changed tactics in the second round, as he struck for a takedown and turned to his ground-and-pound, firing away with punches and elbows to the body and head. With the fight still up in the air in Round 3, Mir again put the Belarusian on the canvas. However, his inability to keep him there proved costly. Arlovski returned to an upright position, held his own in the clinch and snapped back Mir’s head with a pair of left hands, drawing blood from a cut near his right eye.
Barnett became the first man to submit Arlovski when he tapped his fellow former heavyweight titleholder with a rear-naked choke in the third round of their UFC Fight Night 93 headliner on Sept. 3, 2016 at Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, Germany. Arlovski conceded defeat 2:53 into Round 3. Both fighters found themselves dazed by power punches inside the first 20 seconds, with Arlovski emerging from the exchange bleeding from a cut near his hairline. The Belarusian later surprised Barnett with a trip takedown but failed to fully capitalize. The tide turned in the second round, where Arlovski wandered into the clinch and wound up underneath “The Warmaster.” Barnett mounted, let loose with elbow-laden ground-and-pound and nearly finished it. Only the clock saved Arlovski, who had little left in the tank at the start of Round 3. Barnett weathered an inadvertent thumb to the eye that went unnoticed by referee Leon Roberts, drew “The Pit Bull” in close and rolled into mount after threatening with a standing kimura. Arlovski ate a few punches before yielding his back and submitting to the choke.
Arlovski breathed some life into his career and improved to 2-0 in his head-to-head series with Rothwell, as he mauled “Big Ben” with punches on his way to a unanimous decision in their UFC on ESPN 4 rematch on July 20, 2019 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. All three cageside judges scored it the same: 30-27 for Arlovski, who had authored a third-round knockout against the former International Fight League star in 2008. Rothwell spent the majority of the fight absorbing punishment. Arlovski connected with both hands, cut loose with combinations and incorporated uppercuts, spinning backfists and punishing jabs. Rothwell never quit moving forward despite suffering from exhaustion and multiple lacerations to his face. He had Arlovski in trouble midway through the third round, where he found the mark with a thudding left, backed him to the fence and unloaded with punches for a potential Hail Mary stoppage. Fatigue prevented Rothwell from finishing the job, and by the time the fight was done, he looked like a man who had fallen headfirst into a woodchipper.