by Tom Hamlin – MMAWeekly.com
In what may be the most highly anticipated non-UFC fight of
the year, No. 1 ranked Fedor Emelianenko defends his WAMMA heavyweight title
against former UFC champion Andre Arlovski at Affliction’s “Day of Reckoning”
on Jan. 24 in Anaheim, Calif.
According to pre-fight hype, the storyline for this aspect
of the fight is fairly one-sided: Arlovski’s classic boxing technique versus
Fedor’s unconventional, thrown-from-the-hip punching. To say nothing of kicks,
knees, and stomps, most observers believe this is the most crucial area of the
contest, particularly for Arlovski. The question is simple: can Arlovski’s
straight punches get inside before Fedor throws one of his deadly, looping
As trumpeted by one of Arlovski’s boxing coaches, famed
trainer Freddie Roach, the fight is all about angles. Arlovski cannot stand in
front of Fedor and trade; he needs to use footwork to let Emelianenko pass,
then retaliate with combinations. Indeed, before Roach became a consistent
presence, Arlovski’s punching combinations ended the majority of his fights.
The Belarusian has a great straight right and uppercut, which he used to great
effect in his last fight against Roy Nelson for EliteXC. In Roach’s gym,
Arlovski’s hands and footwork have looked extremely sharp and technical.
Arlovski tends to use his feet to set up punches, rather
than throw big head kicks or body shots.
However, his best performances have come against fighters
who remained stationary in front of him. When his last two opponents, Nelson
and Ben Rothwell, were hurt, Arlovski’s hand speed and killer instinct was
second to none. In that way, the Belarusian shares a talent with his Russian
counterpart. When opponents square up, it’s bad news. Transitions, namely the
ones between inside and at-range striking, clinch to takedown, and ground to
standup, are where things get interesting.
Emelianenko, as previously mentioned, throws looping,
unconventional punches, has a relatively wide guard, and leans forward heavily
to throw his shots. Almost without exception, he “jams” in a fight, constantly
moving towards his opponents, looking for the power punch. His combinations
come in short swarms, with lead right hooks being a favored weapon. Like
Arlovski, he doesn’t place emphasis on his kicks, and uses them more to set up
his punches (though there are notable exceptions, like his war with Mirko "Cro
Cop" Filipovic in Pride).
Arlovski is primarily a “sprawl and brawl” stylist, and uses
the majority of his grappling defensively. Though he
was a Sambo champion in his youth, he doesn’t favor
many of the takedowns and transitions of a Sambo
player. When on the ground, he uses shifts in position to get himself back to
his feet. At times, he has struggled against strong wrestlers, most recently
against Roy Nelson, but has grown more adept at minimizing damage from his
back. His Achilles Lock victory over Tim Sylvia at UFC 51 was more of a fluke
than a trend.
Emelianenko, on the other hand, is a multi-time Sambo champion and has applied the best techniques of the
Russian national sport to his MMA game. Emelianenko’s armbar from the bottom
is, quite possibly, the most dangerous of its kind. Fighters who have fought or
rolled with him consistently say he has the best hips in the game for a man his
size. Emelianenko’s hips are constantly moving, making it very hard for
opponents to do damage when they put him on his back. His balance is also
second to none, using small shifts in leverage to put opponents down or
maintain dominant position. Most fearsome is his ground and pound game. When
Emelianenko is in an opponent’s guard, that opponent is destined to eat heavy
With Emelianenko, the point is moot. Without exception, he
is the aggressor in his fights, attacking in small, explosive charges. So far,
his quickness and composure inside the ring have allowed him that trait;
however, his aggression is always tempered by patience. Only in fleeting
moments, such as his suplex at the hands of Kevin
Randleman, near-takedown at the hands of Matt
Lindland, or brief spell in side control against Mark Hunt, has he ceded
offensive control of a fight.
Arlovski is primarily a momentum fighter. He tends to do
best when he has imposed his will early and is confident the bout is going his
way. When there is a crisis of confidence, such as in his bouts with Fabricio
Werdum and rubber match with Tim Sylvia, Arlovski is tentative to engage and
largely passive. At top form, his precision striking and control of opponents
is among the world’s best.
So far, neither fighter has been accused of inferior
conditioning. Arlovski, in particular, has made much of his conditioning
regimen in the build-up to his fight, while Emelianenko has largely flown under
the radar since its announcement, isolating himself in his hometown of Stary Oskol, Russia. There have
been few glimpses of his conditioning methods, but by all appearances, they are
low-tech, “old school,” and very effective.
There have been very small windows into Fedor’s
vulnerabilities as a fighter, but he is always able to close them before they
become a problem. He has been stunned by punches, most famously against
Kazuyuki Fujita in Pride 26, but miraculously gains his composure before he is
Arlovski’s ability to stun Emelianenko with his punches is a
huge “X” factor.
Arlovski’s chin, however, has not withstood big punchers—look
at losses to Tim Sylvia, Pedro Rizzo, and a young Ricco Rodriguez as examples.
His movement needs to be flawless, otherwise, his chin
will be tested early.
Like it or not, Fedor’s aura affects his opponents. When he
goes on the offensive, his aggression often takes opponents out of their game.
With all the hype surrounding him, will Arlovski be able to focus on the man in
front of him?
For Emelianenko, there is a question of whether he will
respect Arlovski’s punching power. Will he charge and lean in so much when
Arlovski has all but given away his game plan? Will his guard be more
Emelianenko needs to do what he does best: swarm and submit.
Take the momentum from Arlovski early on. Stay away from Arlovski’s straight
right and uppercut, and be ready for counter punches as ranges transition. If
the fight goes to the mat, stay on top and grind Arlovski down. Above all, keep
the pressure on.
Like everyone else, Arlovski has a very small window to
seize opportunity before he can let his hands go. If he can use his jab to slow
Fedor’s onslaught, then score with his right hand, he has the opportunity to
take the fight.
It’s highly doubtful that Arlovksi
will submit Emelianenko or try to ground and pound his way to victory. Roach is
right—superior boxing will win the fight, if the fight stays up, and if
Arlovski is ready to seize the day.
Ultimately, it requires the participation of Arlovski’s
mind, and the unflagging belief—in every second of the fight—that
he is one step away from victory. Any capitulation to the Russian will signal
the end of Arlovski’s fight, even before it’s over.
If Arlovski can weather a constant storm, he has a good
– – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – – –