Early Ultimate Fighting Championship vet Paul Varelans is currently engaged in the fight of his life.
Varelans first posted about his COVID-19 diagnosis on Facebook on Dec. 12, writing, “So its [sic] official I am COVID-19 positive. And feel like hell.”
The 6-foot-8 former UFC fighter struggled with the illness, writing on Dec. 13, “Best way I can compare the feel of COVID-19 in my experiance [sic] is it’s like fighting a guy who specializes in kidney punches they never stop coming.” The next day, he wrote, “Now for food pangs I’d kill for candied salmon WTF.” This was his last post, as he has since been hospitalized in Atlanta due to the illness.
On Thursday night, UFC co-founder Art Davie posted about his former fighter on Facebook, announcing that Varelans’ condition has worsened greatly, as Varelans has since been placed on a ventilator. This came shortly after a friend of Varelans posted on Facebook about the situation, while also stating that Varelans is currently in a medically induced coma.
“Paul Varelans…(The Polar Bear)…has been diagnosed with COVID-19,” Davie wrote. “He’s on a ventilator and struggling. I urge everyone in the MMA world, to say a quick prayer for Paul. God speed…!!!”
Varelans has not set foot in a ring or cage in 22 years, with his last appearance at a Rings Holland event in 1998. On that card, “The Polar Bear” punched out Dick Vrij in the headliner just 30 seconds into the second round. The super heavyweight left the sport with a 9-9 record after just under three memorable years. Varelans made his professional debut at UFC 6 in July 1995, where he leveled Cal Worsham in 62 seconds with a downward elbow. In his second jaunt in the cage just a short time later that night, David Abbott knocked him out to eject him from the tournament.
Varelans returned less than two months later at UFC 7, and he reached the finals by forcing Gerry Harris to tap out to elbow strikes and then submitting Mark Hall with a keylock – one of just five in promotional history – both in 67 seconds or less. He was again unsuccessful to win the tournament, as Marco Ruas recorded the first leg kick stoppage in UFC history when he finished Varelans after over 13 minutes of combat. Over the years, “The Polar Bear” squared off against many future greats in the sport, including Ruas, Dan Severn, Igor Vovchanchyn and Mark Kerr.