When Andrei Arlovski debuted in the octagon against Aaron Brink at UFC 28, 9/11 meant a number to call in emergency, Creed’s “With Arms Wide Open” topped the Billboard Hot 100, and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood still aired new episodes. The White Russian debuted on the first card sanctioned by a state in the promotion’s history and drew a UFC paycheck months before Dana White did.
So how, fifteen years, 163 UFCs, and thirty fights later, did Andrei Arlovski find himself competing in a bout with title implications?
“I think I became a smarter person and a fighter,” Arlovski tells Breitbart Sports. “I do everything possible to be a champion again. I just love what I’m doing right now I feel great. I still have fire in my eyes.”
One might ask the same question of his UFC 191 opponent, Frank Mir—so I did.
“You keep showing up every day,” Mir says in explaining his recent renaissance. “Andrei never called it quits. I never called it quits. No matter what adversity we ran up into. After losses, we still show up the next day at the gym. We look to make ourselves better fighters and better men. I think that’s a testament to why we’re still able to be here pushing forward and other fighters decided to end the journey.”
Both sides of the pair share much in common. They enter the cage tonight as 36-year-old former UFC heavyweight champions told to retire after dropping four fights in a row. They now both ride win streaks into a pay-per view co-main event. “Frank and I,” Arlovski explains. “We’re like old school fighters.”
“I still have a lot of respect for Frank,” the heavy-handed Pit Bull says, recalling a bout between them canceled a decade ago. “At that time he was dangerous on the ground, because he was a black belt. Now, I’ve watched his last two fights, and he’s dangerous on his feet.”
That the aging pair remain relevant more than a decade after each first won the UFC heavyweight championship pays tribute to Mir’s evolution and Arlovski sharpening the skillset that brought him UFC gold in the first place. Mir, always an elite jiu-jitsu practitioner, exhibited elite boxing and scary power in his 2015 knockout wins over Todd Duffee and Antonio “Big Foot” Silva. Mir appears bigger—and better. Arlovski looks very much the same fighter who debuted in the octagon fifteen years ago. His boxing beats everyone not named Junior Dos Santos (and possibly Fabricio Werdum) in the division. And the thin heavyweight’s deceptive power remains but, after reaching the high mark for knockout wins in UFC history, it no longer remains deceptive.
“Nothing personal, just business,” Arlovski says of the fight. “Andre’s right,” Mir affirms. “It’s just business.”
That an Andrei Arlovski-Frank Mir matchup makes big business in 2015 appears as one of the unpredictable quirks of the fight business.
Mir regrets that the roar of one of the surging, old lions quiets after Saturday night and wishes the UFC provided him more than a 52-day turnaround from his last scrap. He confesses, “I would have rather had more time.” But that’s an asset that neither guy possesses anymore.