Previewing Affliction: Can Arlovski Defeat the King of Heavyweights?

Andrei Arlovski. Photo property of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Now that perennial heavyweight king Fedor Emelianenko has returned to fighting viable competition, he will face his biggest test in over three years in the form of a newly-confident and conditioned Andrei Arlovski at Affliction’s “Day of Reckoning” event this Saturday night.

Critics continually slammed Emelianenko for his choice of opponents after his hard-fought decision win over Mirko Filipovic in August 2005, but the Russian silenced them with a 36-second destruction of Tim Sylvia, a man that has twice beaten Arlovski, this past July. However in a rare instance, it’s Arlovski’s own trainers that are questioning the fan-favorite in the weeks leading up to his toughest challenge to date.

Arlovski has been spending the majority of his training camp learning how to box under the tutelage of Freddie Roach, who has trained champion boxers such as Manny Pacquiao, Bernard Hopkins, and Oscar De La Hoya among others, and his usual coaches, such as jiu-jitsu specialist Dino Costeas, have been left with a limited amount of time to work with their client.

Costeas has been critical of Arlovski in recent interviews, revealing that Arlovski has been traveling to Roach’s gym in order to train for weeks at a time, leaving him without any real proof that the former UFC champion is even practicing his ground game. On top of that, recent videos put on YouTube (here for example) of Arlovski sparring with Roach’s students haven’t exactly been too flattering for him.

While the mental battle is only one that Arlovski will take on this weekend, Emelianenko’s ever-visible well-rounded skill set provides even greater problems. The former PRIDE champion’s heavy hands have the ability to stifle even a budding boxing prospect such as Arlovski, and his renowned ground game could prove fatal to a man that hasn’t seen very many of his career fights hit the canvas.

Arlovski’s decision to remain focused on the possibility that Emelianenko may just want to stay on the feet could prove to be his downfall. In the days leading up to the heavyweight division’s biggest fight in years, Emelianenko is beginning to look like a heavy favorite for a reason. Still, Affliction’s main attraction isn’t the only bout that is providing questions.

Will Yvel Remain Calm Under Pressure?

Gilbert Yvel had quite the time getting licensed to fight in the United States, just ask California State Athletic Commission representative Bill Douglas, who compared Yvel’s recent process to that of an aging Kazushi Sakuraba and opponent-assaulting Mike Kyle.

In the last decade, Yvel has been known for biting and gouging his opponents as well as knocking out referees who do things he doesn’t approve of. Yet, the CSAC still decided to let him take on Josh Barnett tomorrow night despite the state of Nevada prohibiting him from fighting in the U.S. just last year.

Yvel will be under a huge microscope on Saturday night, and he’s likely headed towards a loss against a superior grappler in Barnett. Will “The Hurricane” be able to keep his cool despite being headed towards another loss? We’ll find out.

Which Vitor Will Show up on Saturday?

After Vitor Belfort’s decision to move to middleweight and impressive knockout of Terry Martin at Affliction’s debut show this past summer, fans quickly began calling for Belfort’s potential return to form - the level at which he fought at nearly a decade ago when he was considered MMA’s brightest young prospect and biggest future star.

Since the end of his second stint with the UFC, Belfort has continued to experience highs and lows. They have also come with a variety of performances from the Brazilian - an aggressive knockout of Kazuo Takahashi, consecutive lifeless performances against Alistair Overeem, and a completely out-of-shape Belfort coasting against an overmatched James Zikic.

Belfort’s problems with consistency are just as great as the mental anguish he has suffered from for years. However with the new-found guidance of Xtreme Couture and a new outlook on his career, Belfort has the opportunity to launch himself into elite status once again with a win against Matt Lindland this weekend.

The hype surrounding the long-awaited fight begs the question: Are we going to see the old Vitor on Saturday night?

How Far Can Sokoudjou’s Star Fall?

In the blink of an eye, Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou became an instant star in the world of MMA.

The African-born judoka, who was brought into PRIDE as a gimme opponent for Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, knocked out the Brazilian in just seconds at PRIDE 33 in 2007. The Japanese countered with Ricardo Arona, but two minutes into his bout with Sokoudjou at PRIDE 34, he too was left unconscious on the mat.

In the months that followed, Sokoudjou enjoyed time as MMA’s hottest free agent before signing with the UFC, where his luck took a turn for the worst. He was submitted by Lyoto Machida in his UFC debut two Decembers ago. A win over fellow PRIDE veteran Kazuhiro Nakamura followed, but Sokoudjou then fell victim to Luis Arthur Cane and was subsequently released from the UFC.

Now Sokoudjou finds himself matched up against Renato “Babalu” Sobral, a long-time veteran of the sport that could create multiple problems for the Team Quest member. If Sokoudjou ends up losing to “Babalu”, will his wins over Nogueira and Arona be considered nothing but flukes? A path to obscurity is unlikely if Sokoudjou eventually returns to Japan, but another loss could have the “African Assassian” tending to smaller shows in North America soon.


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