If Andrei Arlovski seems to be saying the same things prior to every fight, it’s probably because he’s gotten pretty used to the questions being directed his way in the days and weeks leading up to his next appearance inside the Octagon.
The veteran heavyweight, who returns to action against Ben Rothwell in the opening bout of Saturday’s six-fight main card on ESPN, enters off a split decision loss to Augusto Sakai in April, the fourth consecutive outing where he has come away from the cage without a victory. Over the last four years, the former UFC heavyweight champion has just two victories in 11 starts, leaving his record at 27-18 with two no contest results as he readies to square off with “Big Ben” for a second time.
Although it has only been 16 months since his last triumph, a decision win over Stefan Struve at UFC 222, and he has a track record of rebounding from stretches that make it look like his competitive days are over, the questions about his lack of results, his current motivations and the possibility of retirement are more frequent and more forceful following each subsequent setback.
“I’m doing what I love,” said Arlovski, when asked what continues to propel him through training camps and into the cage at age 40 and in the midst of another rough stretch.
It’s the kind of answer that is both easy to understand and often difficult to accept.
On one hand, who can’t identify with finding something you’re passionate about and sticking with it through good times and bad, regardless of what others are saying? On the other hand, for most people, doing what you love doesn’t include an eight-to-twelve week training camp, followed by getting locked in the cage with someone who is looking to separate you from your consciousness, and so choosing to continue down that road when things routinely aren’t going your way doesn’t make sense to most people.
But for Arlovski, it’s all about how he feels each morning when he wakes up and something his first jiu-jitsu coach told him many years ago.
“A long time ago, my coach, Dino Costeas, told me to remember what you want,” began Arlovski, who earned a third-round knockout victory over Rothwell in their first meeting 11 years ago on the main card of the inaugural event promoted by the Affliction clothing brand. “Every day, I remember what I want and I want to be the champion again.
“I feel good,” he added. “This is what I love.”
What’s interesting to consider is whether the questions being asked of him in advance of this weekend’s matchup with Rothwell would be any different had he not come out on the wrong side of the verdict against Sakai earlier this year?
And that very well could — and perhaps should — have been the case.
Most outlets scoring the 15-minute contest awarded the fight to Arlovski, giving the veteran the opening two rounds and viewing the third as the only frame that could have gone either way. Unfortunately for the tenured talent who started his career two decades ago, two of the three judges didn’t see it that way and awarded the fight to Sakai, leaving Arlovski both with a loss and at a loss when the scores were announced.
“I can’t leave it to the judges,” he said when asked about the result against Sakai and his recent run of fights that have gone the distance. “I have to be more active each round and I can’t let it go to the judges.”
Statistically speaking, the math suggests his rematch with Rothwell ends inside the distance, as the veteran heavyweights who each arrive in San Antonio set to compete for the 48th time have earned 53 of their combined 63 career wins by stoppage, good for an 84-percent finishing rate.
Of course, Arlovski has also gone to the cards in seven consecutive bouts, while each of Rothwell’s last two appearances have continued until the final horn sounded, as well.
Either way, “The Pit Bull” welcomes the opportunity to return to the cage, though he’s not moved one way or another when it comes to facing a fellow veteran and squaring off with someone that he’s faced in the past.
“It’s up to the UFC; I don’t choose my opponents,” he answered when asked about not being matched against an emerging fighter seemingly looking to make a name for themselves by beating a former UFC titleholder whose name still carries weight.
“Everything is the same,” Arlvoski added, noting that he still prepares the same way, across all disciplines, when asked if there are things he carries over from the first fight with Rothwell into their second meeting on Saturday. “(The only change) is that I became 10 years older.”
For Arlovski, it really is that simple — it’s just another fight and another opportunity to do the thing that he loves, another chance to compete, another trip to the office.