Brandon Gibson raved last week about the attitude and work ethic of one of the aspiring fighters in his class of amateurs and young professionals at Jackson-Winklejohn MMA in Albuquerque, N.M., where he coaches.
It just so happened that hungry fighter working harder than anyone else in the room was someone who has already reached the pinnacle of the sport.
Former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champ Andrei Arlovski is still one of the hardest workers in one of the biggest and most successful gyms the sport has known.
It’s one of the reasons Arlovski has enjoyed a career resurgence that has him on the verge of securing another UFC title shot almost a decade after he held the most prestigious belt in the sport.
Arlovski could secure a chance to fight for the belt if he’s able to extend his winning streak to seven with a win over Stipe Miocic at UFC 195 on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden.
A great deal of credit for his recent success has been given to Greg Jackson and the rest of the coaches in the Albuquerque gym where Arlovski began training exclusively after suffering four straight losses five years ago.
Gibson said it has been a great match, with Arlovski giving back to the gym just as much as he has taken.
“Andrei is such a leader and a motivator,” Gibson said. “He inspires the guys. I had a big class the other night with a bunch of young fighters, and Andrei was the first guy in the gym and the last guy out, just working that bag relentlessly in front of all these guys. I told them, ‘You want to be a champion and create a legacy? Look at Andrei.’ He’s the true testament to the work ethic and dedication it takes to have such an amazing career.”
Arlovski captured the UFC interim heavyweight belt with a win over Tim Sylvia in 2005. It later became the undisputed title when champion Frank Mir couldn’t recover from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident.
Arlovski successfully defended the belt twice, but eventually lost it to Sylvia in 2006. After losing a rematch against Sylvia, Arlovski won three straight fights, but was out of the UFC when his contract expired.
He won his first two fights outside the UFC, but then dropped four straight and was largely written off in the sport.
Arlovski said Jackson, known as one of the sport’s best strategists, expressed a belief in him.
“I really appreciate Greg Jackson for the hand he gave me and the hope he gave me back then,” Arlovski said. “My former coaches thought I should retire. I was mad, disappointed. I was depressed. I gave a call to Greg, and he said, ‘Listen, come to my camp and we’ll start from the beginning.'”
Arlovski had worked with Jackson periodically, but decided to commit to the gym on a permanent basis to truly find out if he had another run in him.
It proved to be the right decision.
Arlovski went 6-1 in his next seven fights to gain another shot in the UFC, and he has taken full advantage, winning four straight.
Dino Costeas, Arlovski’s jiu-jitsu coach since the beginning of his career, said the positive environment at Jackson’s was vital to Arlovski’s rejuvenation.
“A belief system in himself and the people surrounding him are the big things,” Costeas said. “I feel he had to find a new way. Everybody needs a pat on the back every once in a while. We all have our insecurities, and fighters are no different. I think he’s found himself some really good people, and that’s what made the difference. I think it was both mental and physical.
“People have to remember he was young, and when you’re young and have that kind of success, you’re being affected by the belt, the fame, and all that stuff. I always say it takes a long time to become a man, and Andrei has become a man.”
He’s a man enjoying a great deal of success. In fact, he may be fighting for a belt already if circumstances were a bit different. Fabricio Werdum took the belt from Cain Velasquez, and UFC officials decided to grant Velasquez a rematch.
Otherwise, Arlovski may have been given the opportunity against Werdum, whom he defeated in 2007.
While Arlovski insists he is completely focused on Miocic, he concedes he has an eye on reclaiming the belt he wore a decade ago.
“It’s the reason I came back to the UFC. I want to be champion again,” he said. “But one step at a time. I have to beat Stipe.”
Gibson said Arlovski proved how committed he was to winning the title again, and revealed a great deal about his personality, when he came to the realization he needed to rebuild himself as a fighter even after he had reached the top level of his sport.
“It says a lot about Andrei’s character,” Gibson said. “His willingness to continue to evolve and do what he had to do to reclaim the title. He knew there were areas he needed to improve in. He’s very coachable and very cerebral. He has brought a great team together in order to polish what was already a proven gem.”
The bout is part of a pay-per-view event headlined by a welterweight title fight between Carlos Condit, a teammate of Arlovski’s, and champion Robbie Lawler.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamilllvrj