Friday, March 30, 2007

Fan favorite Arlovski in position for upswing

By Roman Modrowski

Former UFC champ could meet Cro Cop if he beats coach

The last time I wrote about Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight Andrei Arlovski, the headline was, ''THE BADDEST MAN IN CHICAGO.'' He was the UFC champ, and he went out and lost his next two fights, both to the overrated Tim Sylvia.

The next time I saw Arlovski was Dec. 30 in Las Vegas on the undercard of Chuck Liddell-Tito Ortiz II. The MGM Grand arena was packed, and other than the main-event combatants, the person who drew the loudest applause was Arlovski. He hadn't lost any of his star power, and he rewarded those fans with a quick technical knockout of Marcio Cruz.

I caught up with Arlovski on Tuesday at Jabb Gym, where he trains with boxing coach Mike Garcia. Arlovski is preparing for ''UFC Nations Collide'' on April 21 in Manchester, England, where he'll face Fabricio Werdum.

''I'm very glad the fans have stayed with me,'' said Arlovski, a native of Minsk, Belarus, who has lived in Chicago for seven years. ''I feel good, and training has gone well.''

It's an important fight for Arlovski. Werdum is the Jiu-Jitsu coach of Mirko Cro Cop, who likely will become the next UFC heavyweight champ. Cro Cop is expected to get a shot at Randy Couture, who came out of retirement March 3 and took the belt from Sylvia. Assuming Cro Cop and Arlovski win their next bouts, the stage could be set for an entertaining fight.

''Why not?'' Arlovski said when asked if he'd like to face Cro Cop. ''A lot of people would like to see it.

''I think it would be a good fight and a good test.''

First things first, though. Werdum is no gimme. He's a 6-4, 230-pound black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitzu. But the 6-4, 240-pound Arlovski is as skilled as anyone in the UFC.

And the word is Arlovski is holding his own training against pro boxers -- unusual for an ultimate fighter without pro boxing experience.

The 6-2, 220-pound Cro Cop also will be on the April 21 card in what should be a tuneup bout against Gabriel Gonzaga.

The card will be shown on Spike TV, tape-delayed at 8 p.m.

UFC PRIDE: The UFC purchased its Japanese equivalent, PRIDE, this week. Plans are for UFC champs to face PRIDE champs in an annual ''Super Bowl.'' The move reflects the skyrocketing popularity and influence of the UFC. PRIDE cards regularly fill 100,000-seat stadiums.

''This is going to be a good move for us in the UFC,'' Arlovski said. ''Some people say PRIDE fighters are stronger than UFC fighters, so everybody will have a chance to be the best.''

WORTH THE TRIP: Dominic Pesoli is promoting an April 7 boxing card at the Par-A-Dice Casino in East Peoria that features undefeated Chicago middleweight Michael Walker (9-0-1, 8 KOs) taking on Dave Saunders (9-2, 6 KOs). Walker is considered a hot prospect and is gaining national recognition.

The co-main event features Milwaukee-based prospect Mike Gonzalez (9-0-1, 8 KOs) against Jaime Alavarando (7-5-2, 4 KOs).

HOOKS AND JABS: Don't miss ''UFC69'' from Houston via pay-per-view on April 7, if only to see welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre try to take apart Matt Serra, who won ''The Ultimate Fighter'' last season. Serra's a little too cocky for my tastes, and St. Pierre can humble the best in the world.

''Some people say I can beat Matt with one arm behind my back, but the most dangerous thing is to overlook an opponent,'' St. Pierre told me in a recent phone interview. ''I've trained like never before. My motivation is high, and I'm ready.''

St. Pierre won the title with a TKO over Matt Hughes, and let's hope that rematch isn't far off..

• • The Chicago Golden Gloves semifinals are tonight and Saturday night at 7:30 at St. Andrews.

• • Chicago's Montell Griffin will fight Glen Johnson in a light-heavyweight contest on May 16. A victory likely would set up Griffin for a world title shot.

• • The IFL will hold a card April 7 at The Mark of the Quad Cities in Moline. It will feature the Chicago Red Bears. Starting time is 7:30 p.m.


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