Another major focal point that fans were keeping a keen eye on was the return of Andrei Arlovski to the Strikeforce cage following his devastating knockout loss to Brett Rogers nearly one year ago. After using some solid footwork and blazing fast boxing to frustrate Fedor Emelianenko slightly at Affliction's Day of Reckoning back on January 24th, 2009, many fans felt Arlovski was turning onto a new page in the progression of his striking. Unfortunately, Fedor ended his night with a highlight reel knockout after Arlovski made a mental miscue and tried to crush Fedor with a flying knee.
Arlovski's chin came into question following the loss, and those claims exploded into full-fledged "facts" that he had a glass chin after Rogers bombed him at Strikeforce: Lawler vs. Shields. Arlovski had little time to implement any type of gameplan resembling the strategy against Fedor as Rogers came forward, launched a flurry of heavy punches, and connected multiple times toward the end of the combination to knock out the former UFC champion.
Saturday night's loss to Antonio Silva didn't inspire confidence that Arlovski will ever regain the form that made him a UFC champion, but perhaps the evolution of the sport and the skills of the top talents is surpassing his own. While I think Arlovski put to rest some of the criticism of his chin being made of glass, his supposed boxing acumen wasn't able to put Silva into danger during the bout. In fact, the opposite was the case. Silva was landed far more significant punches in the first two rounds of action.
I'm sure Nate could probably formulate a Judo Chop piece outlining the problems Arlovski had during this battle, but from my own armchair perspective -- he was simply inaccurate and being beaten to the punch by Silva's straighter shots, length, and willingness to take the fight to the ground.
In many of the exchanges, Silva kept his distance and launched combinations of straight punches to his face with a couple of solid overhands finding their home on Andrei's chin. The close quarters' exchanges normally ended with Arlovski backing off unbalanced and getting landed on, but his heavy overhand right missed often in those exchanges. In fact, the sheer power it looked like Arlovski was heaving into his overhands in close quarters would have probably downed Silva, but it was always short of its target.
Being short of Silva's chin isn't exactly luck. Silva's frame and length really caused the inaccuracy, and the fact that Arlovski had to worry about Silva's huge frame and takedown abilities didn't help matters. So, the question becomes... if Arlovski is having problems in mixing both his boxing and his ground defense, how can he compete with top flight competition?
And even tougher question to ask is whether or not he'll remain relevant in the landscape of the heavyweight division outside of the UFC. The UFC dominates our SBN/USAT rankings in the heavyweight division, and without a contract with the UFC -- he's limited to fighting non-top 25 fighters or veterans such as Jeff Monson, Pedro Rizzo, any number of Strikeforce up-and-comers, or Brett Rogers in a rematch. Not exactly a crop of heavyweights that keeps Arlovski relevant toward the top.
Arlovski is only 31 years old, and while 32 years of age is normally the age in athletics in which competitors begin to see a visible decline in their skills -- Arlovski is still rather quick in his delivery on the feet. The real question is whether he can compete against these top talents in MMA against, I'll once again say it, the "new era" of heavyweights. The crop of heavyweights entering the division are bigger, stronger, faster, and Fedor Emelianenko has been the only PRIDE-era fighter to repel them so far.
I don't really want to dismiss Arlovski as he's a heavyweight who gave a lot of fans some memorable moments in his career, but he's rather one-dimensional despite many fans trying to make the claim that his Sambo credentials are noteworthy. They aren't noteworthy because the man simply doesn't use them in the cage... ever. The bigger competition entering the sport has a blueprint gameplan of pressing guys into the cage and exposing deficiencies in takedown defense and ground tactics, and Silva was able to actually do that and beat Arlovski in the stand-up game. I'm going to believe the positive outcome of his striking was a result of Arlovski being a bit hesitant to unload due to the dangers on the ground.
Arlovski needs to become confident in his abilities on the ground, and he really needs to become a threat. Unfortunately, I think it's a tad late for him. He doesn't seem to have the skills in that arena, and I really think he's mentally blocking himself from unleashing the fury that we've seen in the past on the feet. Only time will tell, but it'll be interesting to see how Arlovski reacts to this loss and who he'll be matched up with next.