Arlovski: 'To be the best, you have to fight the best'
Andrei Arlovski is training with Freddie Roach for fight with Fedor Emelianenko
Arlovski, who has a passion for boxing, knows his jab could be crucial in the fight
Roach has trained top fighters, boxers including Anderson Silva and Roy Jones
LOS ANGELES -- If Fedor Emelianenko is pressured backwards, if he's attacked down the middle with straight punches and if footwork opens angles for counters, Freddie Roach believes he'll have done all he can to help engineer the Russian's first defeat in a mixed martial arts fight in more than eight years.
History suggests boxing won't be the only factor deciding the Jan. 24 heavyweight WAMMA championship fight in Anaheim, Calif., but both Roach and Andrei Arlovski feel something most fighters usually don't a month out from challenging Emelianenko: they've got advantages.
Roach's no-frills assessment of Emelianenko's boxing -- shaped after watching all the film he could get on the unassuming 32-year-old, who's dominated heavyweights since the millennium -- paints a picture of a sloppy, ill-equipped striker made dangerous by the gift of a monster right.
"He's flat-footed, has no technique, but he can punch," Roach said after the ping-ping-pings of a well-worn round timer died down and onlookers cleared out of his popularized Wild Card Boxing Club. "That always helps. He's accurate. He'll follow you right to the floor, so he's aggressive. But that aggressiveness can be used to our advantage, I think."
Wins over noted strikers, including the dismantling of Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic in 2005, suggest Emelianenko strikes well enough. But well enough was just enough to get Roach interested in breaking down Emelianenko's game. His input, along with thoughts from Arlovski's longtime boxing mentor Mike Garcia in Chicago, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu teacher Dino Costa, had the challenger at ease the Tuesday before Christmas.
Arlovski, a 29-year-old former UFC heavyweight champion, will be the longer, larger man when the pair collides in the Affliction: Day of Reckoning main event. But that's not necessarily why Arlovski likes his chances. Ending with nine rounds of sparring, during which stepping to the side against an aggressive partner was the lesson of the day (this latest three-week session with Roach marked the fifth time they worked together after meeting through a mutual friend), Arlovski returned home with a sense that he's ready to best the titleholder on the feet.
"I want to beat Fedor," said Arlovski, still drenched in sweat and sitting on the gym's ring apron. "He's a human. Everyone thinks he's unbeatable. But he's human. Anything can happen. Obviously he's a top fighter and I respect him."
Boxing has always been a passion for Arlovski. Since entering the UFC in November 2000, he's evolved from a fighter content to look for leg locks to one of the most feared strikers in the game. He left the organization in the middle of 2008, hoping to get a crack at Emelianenko, the widely regarded No. 1 heavyweight in MMA.
Where Emelianenko utilizes a fluid, though unorthodox, striking repertoire of looping punches that often come from his hip, Arlovski (14-5) boxes in a paint-by-numbers sort of way. Discipline, both in mind and technique, is key to his plan of attacking Emelianenko's jaw.
"If you give him momentum," Roach said of Fedor (28-1, 1 NC), "he'll kill you."
That's why they plan on cutting off the ring, why Arlovski's jab could be crucial in the fight and why it's imperative Emelianenko doesn't find his way in his challenger's head.
"A lot of guys lose the fight before it starts," Roach said. "[Fedor is] like Mike Tyson. A lot of guys are scared of him. So the mental game is so important that you can't be scared. You have to be fearless against him."
Boxing is but one sliver of MMA, which Roach described as more complicated to train for than his lone area of expertise. By now, it's fairly accepted that some boxing maxims won't work for MMA. The stance, for example, is generally square in MMA to prevent against absorbing debilitating low kicks to the front leg, or defend single- and double-leg takedowns. Roach doesn't buy it, and neither does Arlovski. Both said Emelianenko's stance leaves him exposed, and Arlovski's angled stance like a boxer is a "huge" factor in his favor.
While Emelianenko hardly kicks to hurt -- a product of wanting to avoid the classic right-straight counter to low kicks as much as his reliance on fast, heavy punches -- he will often set something up low before headhunting. The Russian's takedowns also tend to come from the clinch instead of shots from the outside, leaving Arlovski to feel styles are in his favor, though he acknowledged he must "keep balance and be quick on my feet."
As MMA has grown in recent years, some of the sport's top fighters have looked to boxing's best trainers, such as Roach, to mesh fast, heavy hands with powerful takedowns and slick submissions. UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva recently graced Wild Card (he's not ready for Roy Jones, Jr., Roach said), and B.J. Penn, whom Roach called the most gifted MMA fighter he's worked with to date, also spent several weeks training in the appropriately low-tech facility.
When it comes to a future in boxing, Roach feels Arlovski could handle himself, and he expects the "Pitbull" to make his pro debut after Jan. 24.
"We'll start off with a low-caliber opponent," Roach said, which in boxing's heavyweight division leaves plenty of open doors. "I wouldn't have 30 fights. I'd say five fights, then fight [Vitali or Wladimir] Klitschko."
Emelianenko, of course, comes first -- a fact that's impossible for Arlovski to look beyond.
"So far this is the biggest fight of my MMA career," he said. "I'm very excited about this fight. If you want to be the best, you have to fight the best fighters."