Can Fedor-Arlovski put Affliction back on track?

After a heavily publicized debut show in July, little has happened for the Affliction promotion – at least inside the ring.

Outside the ring, though, has featured a series of false starts.

The company’s latest plan is for a show early next year headlined by the consensus best heavyweight in the world, Fedor Emelianenko, against former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski.

But the match, expected to be held Jan. 24 in Anaheim, Calif., has not been signed at this point.

The company’s only real public presence in recent weeks was on the Oct. 4 Elite XC CBS card. Arlovski’s win over Roy Nelson on the Ft. Lauderdale card was presented on the show as a match from the Affliction promotion.

Affliction’s parent T-shirt company had a half-dozen commercials on the broadcast, with two separate ones, repeated a few times each, built around Arlovski and Emelianenko.

Arlovski won, as expected, via knockout over former IFL champion Nelson. In addition to appearing in the TV commercials, Arlovski seemed the natural opponent for Emelianenko on the next show.

“It’s still being finalized,” said Atencio. “But it looks like it will happen.”

Arlovski (15-5), who held the UFC heavyweight title for 14 months in 2005-06 when the company’s popularity started exploding, was one of the company’s more popular fighters in recent years. But, largely due to a lack of opponents that people cared about, he never had that big match to put him over the top or become a drawing card, even though it was felt he had that potential.

With his unique look, a mouthpiece with fangs, combined with a crowd-pleasing aggressive stand-up style, the championship version of Arlovski was such a marketable heavyweight that every major MMA promotion, including some boxing people, and World Wrestling Entertainment all expressed interest in him.

But something happened on April 15, 2006, while seemingly en route to another devastating knockout win over Tim Sylvia, who he had finished in just 47 seconds the night he won the title. After knocking Sylvia down early in the first round, he aggressively went for the finish, left himself open, took a short uppercut to the chin, and suddenly it was lights out.

There was no denying Arlovski’s punching power. He was quicker than almost any heavyweight, and had shown great takedown defense against high level wrestlers. He also had a background in sambo to where he’s never been even in danger of being submitted in an MMA match. But in his road to heavyweight domination, all of a sudden he had a question mark. His chin.

In looking at the match with Emelianenko, that becomes the big factor.

Arlovski has the better traditional stand-up movement and a multi-pronged attack that includes good low kicks and even better knees. But Emelianenko hits far harder than Sylvia. Emelianenko has been stunned in fights, but he shows superhuman recuperative power. Arlovski was tagged by Nelson and recovered right away, and his last two fights have shown none of the cautiousness of last two years in UFC. The Nelson fight was slow, but it was more because Nelson was able to close distance and wrestle Arlovski to the ground, rather than Arlovski laying back and not wanting to exchange.

The questions Arlovski had to answer really stemmed from his third match with Sylvia, at UFC 61. It was a very different Arlovski who lost a close decision in a match where both men were so cautious that it killed interest in UFC’s heavyweight division until Randy Couture returned. Even though Arlovski blew out his knee midway through the fight, the story line was that he was gun-shy from the knockout.

When Arlovki’s UFC contract expired earlier this year, Affliction bid high, and UFC, which had the right to match the offer, declined to do so.

While complete terms were never released, Arlovski’s first fight on the deal was for $500,000 guaranteed and a $250,000 win bonus as he took apart Ben Rothwell in a match where the devastating striker, who had disappeared a few years earlier, suddenly returned and showed no fear against the 260-pound knockout artist, winning one of the most entertaining heavyweight fights in recent years.

Arlovski tore down the house with the best fight on the Affliction debut show, and his popularity in front of a sellout crowd was rivaled only by Emelianenko, who the show was promoted around.

Against Nelson, Arlovski scored a devastating knockout from a right in the second round of a fight that was booed until Arlovski took control. Despite Arlovski being the only name on the show with a UFC main-event pedigree, his fight was the only one which lost viewers, and the crowd reaction to him was surprisingly tepid, opening up questions as to whether Arlovski has the mainstream name to pull pay-per-view numbers against Emelianenko in a non-UFC show.

The planned Emelianenko-Arlovski match is the first bit of good news for the company in awhile. Affliction’s planned second show, originally scheduled for this past Saturday night in Las Vegas, was canceled because of poor tickets sales for an Arlovski vs. Josh Barnett match that was to determine the top contender for Emelianenko, the World Alliance of Mixed Martial Arts champion.

After the Vegas card was cancelled, a relationship was announced with Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions for pay-per-view shows that would combine both boxing and MMA. While not officially announced, the promotion had been booked for Jan. 17 in Anaheim, Calif., at the Honda Center.

Now, the Anaheim date looks like it’s being moved back a week, since UFC scheduled a pay-per-view that same night from Dublin, Ireland, and Affliction promoter Tom Atencio immediately said he didn’t think it was in anyone’s best interest to run head-to-head on pay-per-view.

The Jan. 24 date would appear as safe as any, since UFC has pay-per-views on Jan. 17 and Jan. 31, as well as a possible “Fight Night” on Spike TV on Feb. 7. At this stage of the game, it would be very difficult to add yet another show.

The Jan. 24 show, despite the talk in the past, will not include boxing. The problem seems to be an inability to get the right boxing match on a date this early. And there are still a lot of questions regarding if that concept can fly, given the two sports have an entirely different fan base.

“Right now we’re planning on four shows for the year with Golden Boy,”

said Atencio. “But this won’t be one of them. It will be a stacked MMA show.”

Dave Meltzer covers mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Send Dave a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Oct 13, 2008