Technically speaking, I was prepared to award the round to Arlovski had he continued to frustrate Fedor on the inside with angles and on the outside with push and leg kicks. Those elements of his gameplan were working sufficiently at the time. But does that mean Arlovski "would've won had it not been for the flying knee"? I have my doubts.
First, there can be positively no argument that Arlovski's chin will forever remain a liability as long as he is fighting at the elite MMA level. His ability to absorb a shot is not horrible and his considerable skill and athleticism always make capable of being a serious challenge to anyone in the division. It's not as if his chin is so weak that therefore there's a ticking time bomb scenario that forces Arlovski to get the fight over as soon as possible or face inevitable defeat. But his chin will likely keep him from reaching the zenith for the duration of his career and possibly even cause problems against fervent challengers. Fighters with considerable power, accuracy and the ability to work inside of Arlovski's range are forever going to be problematic for the Belarussian. And that is precisely why the argument that Arlovski was sure to win this bout had it not been for a reckless flying knee for with his hands down is false. Fedor and Arlovski were exchanging in the pocket, committing more than I thought either man would. It is entirely reasonable to suggest that Fedor - with the same reach as Arlovski - would've been able to land a similar shot during the course of the fight even without the flying knee. To place singular emphasis on one exchange as make or break does not adaquetely respect either Arlovski's liabilities or Fedor's ability.
And that leads to the second point: Fedor's ability. It's clear that in terms of boxing, Fedor was outmatched (although it's not like that was some massive secret prior to the bout) last night. Fedor was clearly having difficulty with Arlovski's accuracy, angles and distance. But that has little or nothing to do with inevitability. First, the notion that Fedor has a noteworthy history of rebounding from precarious situations has already been explored but deserves reiteration. Second, Fedor may not be able to win in a boxing match (with leg kicks) against Arlovski, but he can more easily win a MMA bout. There is a serious lack of respect for the offensive diversity of Fedor's MMA attacks even within a single bout. Rarely do we see the Russian purely strike or work immediately for takedowns as if to telegraph his aims. He has been known to work against opponents' strengths, but even then most of Fedor's fights involve the true variety of the offensive MMA gamut. And in that space and that diversity, Fedor is lethal. When Arlovski decided to throw a knee, all of boxing was abandoned. All of Freddie Roach's insistence that Fedor's terrible punches and flat-footedness would be his undoing were turned on its head. Instead, we witnessed Fedor making use of timing, power and accuracy in true MMA fashion. The punch Fedor threw was not aesthetically pleasing per se, but as he is so capable of doing, Fedor made use of his short frame to extend the length of his arm and body enough to land a devastating power shot while neutralizing Arlovski's attack before it could essentially get started.
Clearly, Fedor is as human as any other fighter with technical foibles that can be exploited by opposition. But Fedor's offensive diversity, speed and power are tailor made for the brackish, choppy waters of MMA. The idea that there was some inevitability about Arlovski winning is grossly off the mark as is the idea that there can be a singular blueprint to defeat the Russian. Yes, some tactics work better than others as we witnessed last night, but you cannot fight Fedor solely on the terms where he isn't as good as his opposition. In a MMA fight, control is a precious commodity. And a fighter like Fedor - who is extremely good at most things, and capable in virtually everything - controlling him to the point where he is unable to do only what you want him to do is an illusion. To defeat him, you have to match his well-roundedness with yours. It is possible but highly unlikely you are going to lord your skill set over his no matter the perceived disparity in ability.
Could Arlovski have won? Yes, he was winning the first round before he was stopped and clearly had the edge in striking from the outside. Had he been able to dictate the exchange and slow the pace down to where he was setting the rhythm, he had a very legitimate shot. But the idea that because he was winning early meant there was some sort of inevitability to the whole affair is entirely too misguided. The truth is we don't actually know what would've happened after Arlovski's last push kick. Perhaps another exchange would've floored either man or the bout could've turned into a five round grappling affair. The point is that for all of Arlovski's talent, there is a reason he lost last night as there is one Fedor won. In the end, like a heavyweight Denis Kang, Arlovki's liabilities did him in while Fedor's strengths saved him again. That is neither luck nor coincidence.