The path to a potential career in the Ultimate Fighting Championship runs through Las Vegas, just miles from the organization's headquarters, for many fighters on a pair of local pro mixed martial arts cards this week.
The events, a Resurrection Fighting Alliance card tonight at Texas Station and Saturday night's World Series of Fighting card at Planet Hollywood, both feature fighters at various stages of their careers, from UFC veterans hoping to make their way back to young fighters trying to work their way up to that level.
Andrei Arlovski falls into the former category. The 33-year-old was the UFC heavyweight champion in 2005 and won his last three fights with the company before being released in large part due to a contract dispute in 2008.
He suffered a four-fight losing streak shortly after departing the UFC and began to doubt whether he could regain his championship form.
"I had concerns that I'm not good enough to keep fighting after my four losses. I asked Strikeforce to release me," Arlovski said. "At that time, I needed some time to take a breath. I was at the bottom of my MMA career. I was in deep (expletive)."
Arlovski says he has been rejuvenated working with renowned trainer Greg Jackson and after consecutive wins now feels like he may once again be ready to compete with the best in the world.
"I want to climb back to the top. I want to be champion again," said Arlovski, who will fight Strikeforce vet Devin Cole in the main event of the WSOF card. "Who knows, maybe one day I will fight in the UFC again, but I don't want to be given a favor. I want to earn that opportunity. I can wait. I'm still young."
A win over Cole, who has won seven of his last nine, could help prove Arlovski is still capable of competing at a high level.
That has never been an issue for Anthony Johnson. The 28-year-old former welterweight contender has been regarded as one of the most talented fighters in the world for several years.
His days in the UFC ended in January, however, when Johnson missed the 185-pound middleweight limit, the third time he missed weight during his stint with the company.
He has won all three fights since being released, the last two by second-round knockout.
He says trying to impress his old bosses will be the furthest thing from his mind when he faces Bellator veteran D.J. Linderman at light heavyweight on the WSOF card, which will be televised on the NBC Sports Network (Cable 38).
"I just go fight by fight," he said. "I'm fighting for World Series of Fighting, not UFC, so I don't think about UFC. It is what it is. UFC doesn't even cross my mind."
Johnson is confident that the high level of talent that has been assembled for the inaugural WSOF card, which includes UFC veterans Miguel Torres, Gerald Harris and Josh Burkman, will make it a top organization in its own right. That may provide a whole different route back to the UFC.
"An organization like this, who knows? The UFC bought Pride because it was competition to them," he said. "I think this league is going to create a lot of competition. These guys aren't all out of the UFC because they suck. It could be any number of issues like personal reasons, contract stuff, whatever it may be. We'll see. It will be a lot of fun to see what's about to happen."
The RFA show, the league's fourth but first in Las Vegas, also features several former UFC fighters. The main event pits Tyson Griffin against Efrain Escudero in a lightweight bout and will be televised on AXS TV.
Others on the card hope to get to the level those two have previously reached.
Las Vegan Chidi Njokuani is still only 23 and working in that direction.
"(Making the UFC) is definitely my main focus. That's where I want to be in a few years, or sooner, however long it takes," said Njokuani, who will fight fellow Las Vegan Phil Dace in a welterweight bout on tonight's card. "I feel like I could get in there and hang with a lot of the guys, but I don't see myself fighting for a title anytime soon. That's why I know I have a lot to learn, but I feel like I can hang with most of the lower-level guys in the UFC right now.
"I've got a long way to go, but I'm at a good stage for my age."
He also has a good role model helping him along the way. Njokuani trains alongside his brother, Anthony, an established UFC veteran.
Tonight's RFA card at Texas Station will start at 5 p.m. Saturday's WSOF card at Planet Hollywood is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. Tickets remain for both events.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.