Andrei Arlovski vs. Tai Tuivasa Continues A Trend, But Is It A Smart One?

Andrei Arlovski UFC 232 Walt Harris
Credit: Dave Mandel/

Former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski is once again being thrown to the wolves. This time, it’s against hot prospect Tai Tuivasa.

Earlier this week, the UFC confirmed a heavyweight scrap between Andrei Arlovski and Tai Tuivasa. The pair will throw down at UFC 225 in Chicago, joining another key heavyweight tilt previously announced: Curtis Blaydes vs. Alistair Overeem. UFC 225 takes place at the United Center on June 9 in the Windy City, and it looks to be a fun card.

Tuivasa (7-0) is a young up-and-comer from Australia boasting first round finishes in all of his fights to date. A flying knee KO in his UFC debut against Rashad Coulter captured MMA fan’s attention. A followup TKO of Cyril Asker at UFC 221 earlier this year earned him the shot at Arlovski (27–15 (1)).

That’s the same Andrei Arlovski whose chin has been called into question for years. The very same who had a solid career resurgence, returned to the UFC for a four-pack of victories starting in 2014, only to fall into a five fight tailspin. To Arlovski’s credit, he pulled out of that tailspin and has won two straight, against Junior Albini and Stefan Struve.

However, Tuivasa is exactly the sort of threat a fighter like Arlovski — still a draw, but long in the tooth — should be avoiding at this point in his career.

If you’ve been paying attention to the heavyweight ranks these days, you’ll see a trend. Over in Bellator MMA, the elder statesmen of the division are in the midst of a Grand Prix to crown a heavyweight champion. At age 34, light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader is the youngest of the crop, but giving up a fair bit of size to some of the larger men. There’s not a young buck in the bunch, and probably for good reason: Bellator is expecting name power to draw eyeballs. If a young unknown came in and cleared out one side of the bracket, they’d run the risk of taking a big ratings hit. Sure, they’ve given up the possibility of finding the next Daniel Cormier, but Bellator CEO Scott Coker seems at peace with that. This way, he gets to book names like Fedor, Mir, Nelson, Mittirone, Rampage and others, knowing that come the end of the grand prix, one legend or another will be wearing gold.

In stark contrast is the heavyweight ranks of the UFC. For the first time in years, there are some fresh contenders in the division. It’s taken them a few years to get to this point, but names like Francis Ngannou, Derrick Lewis, Curtis Blaydes, and Tai Tuivasa are the future of the UFC’s 265lb weight class.

Unlike Bellator, which is protecting its older stars for the time being, the UFC has been happy throwing its icons to the wolves. Overeem was fed to Ngannou, who separated him from this very plane of existence at UFC 218.

UFC 218 Francis Ngannou, Alistair Overeem
Francis Ngannou, left, hits Alistair Overeem in the first round during a UFC 218 heavyweight mixed martial arts bout, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017 in Detroit. Ngannou defeated Overeem by first-round knockout. (AP Photo/Jose Juarez)

Curtis ‘Razor’ Blaydes is coming off a win over another old war horse, Mark Hunt. Hunt is currently (and rather dubiously) asking for a scrap with Ngannou next. Meanwhile, Blaydes has been paired up with Overeem, whose soul returned to his body sometime in the New Year.

Alexander Volkov, a former Bellator MMA heavyweight champ but still just 29 years old himself, was given 40 year old Fabricio Werdum at UFC London. He finished Werdum off off in the fourth round of their main event fight.

When Arlovski steps into the cage against Tuivasa in June, it will be the fourth time in his past five fights that the ‘Pitbull’ will have been paired up with a rising prospect. Marcin Tybura, Ngannou, Tuivasa, Albini — Struve has been the only exception, though the Dutch fighter is still a fair bit younger than the former UFC champion.

To be fair, no one is forcing Arlovski to take the fight; he clearly feels he still has some miles left in him for that matter. And it does make sense to have a gatekeeper or two around pretty much every weight class. Yet when you’ve got an aging division with the power that heavyweights possess, fighter safety and career longevity come into play.

In short, maybe Bellator has the right idea.