Even after everything Andrei Arlovski has been through over the years, he still remembers the date he came to the U.S. for the first time.
“September 29, 2000,” he says without hesitation. The Belarus native was a mere prospect at the time, 3-1 as a professional mixed martial artist and less than two months away from his UFC debut against Aaron Brink.
He won that fight, submitting Brink in less than a minute, but when he was stopped in back-to-back bouts by Ricco Rodriguez and Pedro Rizzo, his future in the UFC and in the U.S. were murky.
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Arlovski talks of those days and the thoughts he had of possibly heading back to Russia if things didn’t work out.
“Back in 2003 and 2004, I was in the dark,” he said. “I didn’t know how this would go. It was like the lottery for me.”
Only this lottery was resolved by his fists, and with each roll of the dice disguised as a prize fight, the numbers all started coming up in Arlovski’s favor. Three wins over Ian Freeman, Vladimir Matyushenko and Wesley Correia earned him a shot at the interim UFC heavyweight crown against Tim Sylvia in Feb. of 2005, and in 47 seconds, “The Pit Bull” was a world champion.
He was home.
Nearly 11 years later, Arlovski still makes his home in Chicago, with his training camps taking place in Albuquerque. He has done the most American of things by bouncing back from a four-fight losing streak and an exile from the UFC to return to the promotion, win four consecutive fights, and put himself one win over Stipe Miocic at UFC 195 away from another shot at the world title.
Most would call that living the American Dream. Arlovski agrees to a point, but he believes it won’t be the true American Dream until he completes his mission of being a UFC champion again. In the meantime, he represents his adopted home country to the fullest, saying “I’m proud to be an American. I fight and live in the states, so that’s why I decided to compete under the American flag.”
The 36-year-old Arlovski is a lot different from the 26-year-old one who beat Sylvia.
Back then, he got by on pure athleticism and talent, and if you thought that he was invincible from 2003 to 2005, you were not alone. He probably believed it too, and that attitude will catch up to any athlete eventually, especially in a sport as unforgiving as MMA.
Today, Arlovski’s routine involves 5 a.m. wake-up calls that come after a night of restful sleep, not a night at the clubs.
“It sucks, I’m not a morning person, but it is what it is. It’s reality,” he said.
Reality also means being away from his wife and son as he gets ready for the most important fight of his second stint in the Octagon.
“No holidays for me this year,” he said. “My holiday’s gonna start January 2nd, right after the fight. My wife is a smart woman and she understands what’s more important for me right now. Plus, it’s good for me that my son is still only 3 years old. And my wife’s parents came, so it’s gonna be like a real Christmas with my wife and my son. It’s rough, but this fight is very important for me.”
Put this all together, and it’s called maturity. Arlovski is one of the fortunate ones who found it while still able to physically perform on the elite level. Not many get that chance, and he is making the most of it.
“For a heavyweight, I think it’s prime time,” he said. “Now I choose what’s more important for me, and for me right now, it’s important for me to be the champion in the UFC again, and I promise I will do everything possible to reach my dream. I’m telling you one thing, at the age of 36, I’m training harder and more than I used to train when I was 26, when I was a champion the first time in the UFC.”
More importantly, he’ll appreciate a second world title even more than he did the first one.
“A hundred percent,” Arlovski said. “At the age of 36, I have different priorities in my life, besides MMA. I choose what’s more important for me. For me, more important than anything is my family and my career. That’s it.”