After leaving the UFC in 2008 with the view of pursuing a better contract elsewhere, the former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski flitted between several organizations. But it wasn’t until recently that the Pitbull finally fought in the world’s biggest MMA organization again.
UFC President Dana White went on record saying that he wouldn’t “get in the way of any man looking for a better contract,” and thankfully for Arlovski it seems that White’s respect for the combative striker remained over all these years. Although, for a time it did look like Arlovski’s time in the sport was coming to end when he lost 4 in a row – 3 of which were in Strikeforce.
After a 4-fight skid, Arlovski began the rebuilding his career with trainers Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn in Albuquerque. Years later, like aforementioned, Pitbull would go on to re-sign with the UFC and strangely his popularity was still intact with fans remembering his three wars with Tim Sylvia above all of his other memorable fights.
However, what’s more surprising is Arlovski’s ascent to the top of the heavyweight rankings, as he has won all three of his fights in the UFC since his return against Brendan Schaub, Antonio Silva and Travis Browne, with the latter being a contender for Fight of the Year. Arlovski’s reemergence has been nothing short of remarkable, and with his marketability a key factor for a potential title fight, Arlovski is being heralded as the biggest comeback story in recent years.
Although it isn’t just Arlovski who has seen a revival in fortunes as fighters such as Ben Rothwell and current UFC champion, Fabricio Werdum have also seen their careers take a positive swing. Werdum, like Arlovski, was part of the Strikeforce-era and he too has many blemishes on his record. So, why have so many heavyweight fighters closing in on 40-years-of-age started dominating the division in their later years?
For most elite sport competition, athletes are said to reach their peak performance levels at around 28-31 years-of-age. This is understandable and backed up by legitimate research by fighting historian Patrick Wyman that found an MMA fighter’s performance starts to deteriorate at 31.7-years-of-age – usually after 9 years of making their pro debut in the sport.
If we look at other sports, you can see how this peak age range transcends across a number of verticals. In soccer, superstars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are currently in their prime and are dominating both at club level and international. Also, in basketball, Lebron James has just arguably played some of the best baketball of his career when he singlehandedly tried to take on the Golden State Warriors in the Playoff Finals. All of these athletes are within the 28-32 years-of-age range mentioned.
So, if the likes of Arlovski, Werdum, Mir, Hunt, Rothwell and Overeem are past their shelf life in MMA, why are they prevailing in the division currently? There are quite a few factors to consider, which are the following…
1. Strength of the division
If you ask the majority of MMA fan to rank their strongest to weakest divisions in the UFC, the likelihood is the heavyweight division would be somewhere near the bottom. For a long time it’s lacked depth and aside from Stipe Miocic, there aren’t any real younger fighters that are taking the division by storm. Whereas, arguably all the other divisions in the organizations have legitimate prospects, the heavyweight division has been lacking this for some time now.
2. Heavyweights aren’t as athletic
Because of sheer size and muscle bulk, heavyweights tend to be less athletic than other divisions. Unless you’re Mark Hunt, Ben Rothwell or Antonio Silva the likelihood is there will be no weight cut thus, many fighters walk around with a higher body fat percentage than other fighters in the other divisions.
3. Punching power is the last things to leave a fighter
Many experts believe that punching power is the last attribute to leave a fighter. This would explain why Arlovski is still a knockout machine, brutally KOing the likes of Antonio Silva in Brazil this year. With so many miles on the clock for the bulk of the elite heavyweights on the UFC’s current roster is this attribute that many of them rely on the most.
Muscle bulk generally equates to punching power with explosive fast-twitch muscles that allow fighters to get so much power behind their strikes. Therefore, with a larger proportion of muscle bulk this provides Arlovski with a higher probability of KOing an opponent than say, a flyweight with heavyweight KO percentages extremely high.
4. The older, the wiser
In many other sports, when a competitor reaches their twilight years, they rely on logic more than athleticism, and this experience advantage definitely translates to the heavyweight division. Being comfortable in the environment that athletes are placed in comes from experience and age. That’s why some rookies, amateurs or even UFC newcomers don’t find their feet until later in their career.
The age for competitive golfers to reach their peak performance is one of the biggest windows at 25-35 years-of-age but even though this study suggests that golfers start to regress in performance levels after 35 – this hasn’t been the case of late. A study on poker aligns itself with these findings by showing that, if someone is an expert in their field, they tend to think without emotion and rely on logic unlike an amateur who will think illogically and tend to let emotions get the better of them.
With the above findings from two entirely different sports, it shows that regardless of Arlovski’s age, it is possible for the popular heavyweight to maintain his assault on the heavyweight division and hopefully join this list of age-defying UFC champions in the near future if he is able to dethrone current champion Werdum. Even if he doesn’t get the title fight that he so desperately craves, he may be in for the biggest payday of his career if in fact reports are true about a possible rematch with the iconic Fedor.
Exclusively Written for ProMMANow
By Double Hit Girl