VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski sat down at his first Ultimate Fighting Championship postfight press conference in more than six years on Saturday night and apologized.
“Honestly I felt, and still feel, really horrible,” he said. “It’s good (UFC president) Dana White is not here because he’d be so pissed at me. He gave me a great opportunity.
“I didn’t like my fight tonight.”
And he was the winner.
Arlovski, who was not re-signed by the UFC when his contract ran out in 2008 despite coming off three straight wins, returned to the organization on Saturday night with a split decision victory over Brendan Schaub in a snoozefest that cast a shadow over the rest of UFC 174 at Rogers Arena.
The matchup between the two big, athletic strikers had expectations soaring for a thriller. Instead, fans were treated to prolonged stretches of clinching and posturing interrupted by a few swings and misses.
Schaub finally found some success with a takedown and some good work on the ground in the final round, but it was too little too late for him — and the fans. He was probably the rightful winner of the fight, but White said Schaub has little room to complain.
“I think everyone would agree that fight sucked. The fans lost in that fight,” White said on the postfight show on Fox Sports 1. “The first two rounds could have gone either way. For Schaub to feel like he got robbed tonight is absolute comedy.
“(The fans) got robbed tonight. That should never have been on the main card. That fight should have been on the prelims.”
Hindsight is easy, but the statement is certainly an overreaction that borders on absurd. The fight between Schaub and Arlovski was, at worst, the third most anticipated matchup on the card, behind only the flyweight title bout or the welterweight top contender fight that sat in the headlining spots, if anything.
Schaub and Arlovski’s lackluster performance did more than anger their boss, who did not attend the press conference. It also took the air out of the arena for the final three bouts of the night.
While those fights weren’t necessarily outstanding, the three winners did deliver exceptional performances.
Flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson may have delivered his best all-around performance in winning all five rounds of a unanimous decision over Ali Bagautinov. Rory MacDonald, a native of British Columbia, controlled Tyron Woodley so much in winning a unanimous decision in a matchup of two of the top welterweight contenders that White said Woodley “choked.”
Light heavyweight Ryan Bader was also impressive in defeating Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante.
Yet the tone of the evening had been set.
The crowd rallied in support of hometown hero MacDonald, but a significant amount left the arena during Johnson’s virtuoso performance in the main event.
“I didn’t notice at all. I was too busy throwing knees in the clinch,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me at all, you know. People are free to leave and go as they please. They’re not held here in contempt. I think all the educated fans loved it.”
His biggest problem may have been being too good on Saturday. Bagautinov is a talented fighter, but had no answer for Johnson.
The final outcome felt inevitable from about the second round on.
It may set up a rematch with John Dodson, who Johnson already defended the belt against with a unanimous decision victory in January 2013. Dodson has rebounded with impressive wins in his last two fights, stirring fans’ interest in a rematch.
Johnson isn’t so sure. He seems to prefer new challenges to another fight with Dodson.
“I’m not trying to avoid that fight,” he said. “Obviously, it’s up to the UFC to make that decision. The reason why I say that is because this division is rich with great athletes and great fighters, and many of you guys know that Dodson isn’t the only person in this division.”
As for MacDonald, he is resigned to the fact he is behind the winner of July’s bout between Robbie Lawler and Matt Brown in the 170-pound pecking order.
“It’s not that I don’t want the title shot. I want it to be clear: I want that,” he said. “But I respect the decision that there are two guys ahead of me that have been promised it.
“But if that fight is a stinker, I’m ready to step in.”
If it at all resembles Arlovski’s win over Schaub, he just might get that chance.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.