What’s Next For The Resurgent Andrei Arlovski?

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Ranked at No. 14 heading into last night’s (Sat., September 13, 2014) UFC Fight Night 51 main event rematch with Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski was understandably pegged as quite a big underdog.

After all, “Bigfoot” had already defeated Arlovski in Strikeforce and was ranked No. 4 after his scintillating UFC Fight Night 33 war with Mark Hunt. Arlovski’s chin had also failed him on multiple instances in the past, and that promised to be a huge dynamic in their rematch last night.

But promises aren’t always kept, and Arlovski thundered to a massive first round knockout (watch highlights here), shocking the MMA world and instantly supplanting himself near the top of the shallow UFC heavyweight ranks.

So what’s next for the resurgent Arlovski?

Well, a wealth of exciting possibilities opened up when he found “Bigfoot’s” massive chin with two pinpoint right hands, bouts that you would have laughed at not all that long ago. The first one is an obvious one, a bout with returning former champion Junior dos Santos.

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There are many questions that remain about “Cigano’s” ‘injured hand and his overall state as a fighter after two brutal five-round beatings at the hands of grinding champion Cain Velasquez. Yet there is no doubt that dos Santos and Arlovski have arguably the two best pure boxing skillsets in the UFC’s largest division.

Arlovski would have to land some big shots early, as dos Santos can absorb an otherworldly amount of punishment and still keep fighting. The same cannot be said for Arlovski, so this fight would also see him as quite a substantial underdog. Still, it would be a fun and exciting fight that would be perfect for “Cigano’s” awaited return to the cage.

A lesser discussed bout, however, and one that may make even more sense for Arlovski is one against the winner of next Saturday’s (September 20, 2014) Hunt vs. Roy Nelson UFC Fight Night 52 main event. Hunt and Nelson are both power strikers like Arlovski, but they quite aren’t on the level of dos Santos.

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The Brazilian slugger has beaten both, but each would make for an interesting and hard-hitting match-up with Arlovski. He actually knocked Nelson out in EliteXC way back in 2008, no easy feat. Hunt is, well, Hunt, a fighter with an extreme tendency for putting on some of the most exciting slugfests the UFC has ever seen.

I think that that would be the better fight for Arlovski. He looked dominant in unseating the No. 4-ranked heavyweight last night, but that doesn’t mean he should be instantly matched up against a monster like JDS, who can most likely take out most UFC heavyweights outside of Velasquez.

Despite his injuries, dos Santos would probably send Arlovski’s feel-good story plummeting back down to reality, but he could give Hunt or Nelson more of a run. That’s why they should make this fight in my opinion. The timeline works out, and dos Santos could have some unfinished business with formerly scheduled Stipe Miocic.

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Arlovski could also fight Miocic as well, and it would be another high-level boxing match against the Croatian Golden Gloves champion. But it’s better for the UFC to have Arlovski face off against the winner of Hunt vs. Nelson, and let them face the winner of dos Santos vs. Miocic if it gets re-booked.

Regardless of what transpires, Arlovski’s return has injected a bit of life into the stagnant UFC heavyweight division, and that momentum will continue when Velasquez finally returns to defend the belt against Fabricio Werdum in the main event of November 15;’s UFC 180 in Mexico City.

Will “Pitbull” regain the belt in the future? Probably not, but one thing is clearly true: he made watching the heavyweight division fun again last night.

Photo: Anne Marie-Sorvin for USA TODAY Sports