It’s hard to picture Andrei Arlovski crying.
Most MMA fans, if asked to think back on vintage “Pitbull,” picture him snarling into the camera with a mouthguard designed to look like a pair of scary fangs.
But last week, that same guy was ready to cry tears of joy when he found out he would be returning to the UFC after an absence of more than six years.
“It was an emotional day,” Arlovski told MMAjunkie Radio. “My manager called me and told me it was a done deal, and I had tears in my eyes.”
Arlovski left the UFC after a 2008 win over Jake O’Brien, and he left on a three-fight winning streak. He fought on Affliction’s first show and knocked out Ben Rothwell. Then he stopped Roy Nelson for EliteXC.
But then a rough stretch started, and he was knocked out by Fedor Emelianenko and Brett Rogers, lost a decision to Antonio Silva and was knocked out by Sergei Kharitonov, the latter three coming under the Strikeforce banner.
By and large, the Russian was considered washed up. But he started to get back on track, and while the wins weren’t coming against monster names, they still were coming. At 6-1 his past seven fights with a controversial no-contest with Tim Sylvia thrown in there, the former UFC heavyweight champion got the call to return, and he’ll meet Brendan Schaub in June at UFC 174 in Vancouver.
But it wasn’t a small dunk for “Pitbull” to return. In fact, UFC President Dana White had reservations about re-signing him. Those reservations came from a WSOF fight Arlovski had against Anthony Johnson, a former UFC welterweight who also recently re-signed with the company to fight at light heavyweight. At WSOF 2, he beat Arlovski at heavyweight.
This past Saturday at UFC 172, Johnson dominated Phil Davis in his return.
“Anthony Johnson was the one thing I didn’t like about bringing Arlovski back, so that makes me feel a little better (that Johnson beat Davis),” White said after UFC 172. “Arlovski’s a heavyweight, and he lost to a guy who fought in our show at 170. That’s what really bothered me about bringing Andrei back.”
But in the end, White said he was willing to give Arlovski one more try in the promotion – though he admitted Arlovski wasn’t on his radar screen for someone to add to the roster until Arlovski’s manager reached out.
“I like him. He’s on a win streak, and the window is closing for Andrei Arlovski,” White said. “They really wanted a fight. He’s always been an honorable guy, and so has his manager, and I said yes. They said they wanted to come back. He’ll fight Brendan Schaub, and we’ll see what happens.”
Arlovski’s plan for what happens seems to be to take his time and start stringing together wins in the big show. He said he already was heading to Albuquerque, N.M., where he trains with the Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA team.
But at 35, he believes he might just be at the top of his game. Back in the UFC against stronger competition, he’ll soon find out – while treating his return to the company like it’s his first time there.
“Right now, I’m smarter and more educated in my fighting styles,” he said. “At this point, I might be better than ever.
“I’m going to be smart and beat my next opponent. But at the same time, this is going to be my debut in the UFC. I need to take it one step at a time. I’m not scared to train hard and fight hard – I’m just ready for big changes in my career, period. I’m not that old – at 35, I might be in the prime of my career. I might be training harder than I was 10 years ago.”