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Heavyweight orbits cross in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS – Brett Rogers' new mixed martial arts gym in Eagan, Minn., is named Ambition MMA, an appropriate moniker for a place that houses a guy looking to move to the top of the heavyweight division.

There is little doubt what the future holds for the undefeated Rogers, who scored a spectacular first-round knockout of former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight king Andrei Arlovski Saturday on a Strikeforce card at the Scottrade Center.

More serious questions surround the future of Arlovski, who has now been knocked out in each of his last two fights.

Arlovski, the former UFC heavyweight champion, is good enough to beat the majority of the world's heavyweights. He doesn't look like a guy, though, who is prepared to beat the elite men in the important bouts.

Rogers needed just 22 seconds to dispose of Arlovski on Saturday. He blasted the Belarusian with a left hook that sent the popular former champ staggering back into the cage. Rogers finished him with a flurry of punches, including a left-right-left combination that nearly left Arlovski's head spinning like a top.

Rogers, the one-time Sam's Club employee, guaranteed himself another high-profile bout with the nationally televised victory. He may get a shot at Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem on an Aug. 15 card that also features a women's showdown between Gina Carano and Cris "Cyborg" Santos.

"I'm ready for whatever, man," Rogers said after improving to 10-0 with his ninth knockout. "I was planning on picking that (heavyweight title) up today, but it was kind of pushed back. I hope he's keeping that belt good and clean for me."

Arlovski is only 30 years old, and there's no reason he couldn't continue to fight at a high level for four or five more years. But when a man has scaled the heights that Arlovski has, it's often difficult to accept being a middle-of-the-pack guy.

That's what Arlovski appears to be at this stage. He was knocked out by Fedor Emelianenko in Anaheim, Calif., in January and suffered a similar fate on Saturday to a man with a far less impressive résumé than Emelianenko.

Many fighters who get knocked out as hard as Arlovski was by Emelianenko are never truly able to take a hard shot again.

It's hard to question Arlovski's chin on Saturday because the punches Rogers hit him with were powerful enough to knock down a schoolyard wall. The psychological effect, though, of another knockout loss figures to have a far more lasting impact than the physical damage sustained.

Rogers, though, inflicted plenty of that. He made little pretense of what he intended to do and then simply went out and overpowered Arlovski.

"He wasn't moving much," Rogers said.

That's probably because the first clean punch Rogers landed, a left hook to the cheek, appeared to put Arlovski out on his feet. He was back against the cage when Rogers waded in firing heavy shots, forcing referee John McCarthy to jump in and stop the carnage after Arlovski dropped to the mat.

"I wanted to show everyone I'm not in there to play around," Rogers said.

If he gets past Overeem in August, he'll have positioned himself to fight the biggest names available. Though Rogers' record isn't filled with big names, he's only been out of the first round once in 10 fights, and that has to count for something. You can bet that the Showtime television executives have taken note of that.

What clouds Arlovski's future is that those same executives undoubtedly were carefully watching his last two outings. Because of his past he commands big money, but fighters who make big money in MMA do it by fighting top-shelf competition.

But after back-to-back crushing knockouts, it's doubtful Arlovski is going to get another fight of similar magnitude anytime soon.

He was so confident of a victory on Saturday that he'd already agreed to a boxing match on June 27 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. That, too, went out the window when he got knocked out by Rogers.

Arlovski's boxing handlers were excited by his potential and believed he had the skills to compete for a title. His confidence, though, is now as shattered as his chin.

Rogers has no such issues. His confidence soared with the career-defining win over Arlovski, and his prospects are exceedingly bright.

Rogers hasn't proven he has a ground game, though the other way to look at is that he hasn't needed to. If he keeps knocking guys out, he won't have to worry about his ground skills.

He began training in his spare time while he worked in the tire department at a Minnesota Sam's Club. He finally decided earlier this year to give the job up for good so he could concentrate on MMA full-time.

It clearly looked like a good move on Saturday, though Rogers doesn't want to get caught up in the hype.

"I'm not the only guy who started in the working world," Rogers said. "This was a perfect opportunity and this sport is all about timing. Definitely this is my time and I'm just going to keep on working."

The only difference between now and six months ago is that he can do his work in a spiffy new gym and doesn't have to worry about throwing tires around in an auto shop.

It's the guy he beat on Saturday who might have to think about getting a job.