Heavyweight Soa Palelei Talks Upcoming ONE FC Showdown With Andrei Arlovski: “I Said To Myself ‘I’ll Never Lose Again.’ Now I’ve Got a Seven-Fight Winning Streak.”
By Tom Taylor
On August 1st, Asian upstart promotion ONE FC will hold its most anticipated event yet. Entitled “Pride of a Nation,” the show goes down in Manila, the Philippines, a site famous for hosting Muhammad Ali’s and Joe Frazier’s historic showdown, “The Thrilla in Manila.”
When ONE FC makes its trip to Manila, it will boast an appealing heavyweight showdown between hard-hitters Soa “The Hulk” Palelei (17-3) and former UFC Heavyweight Champion Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski (17-9).
While Palelei is pleased to be a part of ONE FC, he says his end-goal is competing in the UFC. Palelei has fought in the UFC once before, falling short in his debut. He is eager for another crack, however, and has only signed a one-fight deal with ONE to leave his options open.
“It’s great to be part of something big, like ONE FC,” Palelei told Full Contact Fighter. “It’s just the one fight at the moment, though. There were a few other organizations that offered me multiple fight deals, for three or four fights, but that would probably span out to about 18 months, and I don’t really want to tie myself down.
“I’d like to take it one fight at a time,” he continued, “because the goal at the end of the day is to be part of the UFC, so we’ll see what happens.”
While Palelei does long for the bright lights of the UFC, he is realistic in his understanding that things may not work out the way he hopes.
“It’s the end goal [to fight in the UFC], but whatever happens I’ve still got to put food on the table. I’m active at the moment and I’ve been fighting regularly. For the last six months I’ve had one nearly every month. I just want to keep active, keep fighting, and keep proving myself,” he said.
Against Arlovski, Palelei will fight a big-name vet who has been to the top of the mountain. Despite being the one-time heavyweight king, Arlovski has recently fallen on hard times, losing four of his last six fights. Although he has recently righted his ship, reeling off two consecutive wins, speculation that the Belarusian should hang up his gloves his prevalent. Palelei, however, is not of this mindset.
“He’s still dangerous,” Palelei said. “I don’t go into any fight thinking that I’m going to knock them out. I go in there and do my job, and I play my game. I don’t play their game.
“With a guy like Arlovski, he brings a lot to the table. He’s tough. He didn’t get a UFC world title for nothing or for standing at the bus stop. He worked hard for it and he wants to prove himself again. He obviously wants to get back to that top-five in the world status. I think he thinks that this is a stepping stone, but we’ll see. I respect him as a fighter, and I think he’s one of the legends of the sport, but we’ll see.”
His respect for his upcoming opponent is as obvious as it is abundant, but he says he will not treat Arlovski any differently than his past opponents, despite the former champ’s accolades.
“I respect him as a fighter like I do all of my opponents, but it’s just another fight. I don’t treat him any differently than any other fighter. I’m just going to go in there and keep my hands up and throw. It’s totally different when I’m in there (from how) I’m talking now. My last loss was to Daniel Cormier and I remember sitting in the (dressing) room and I said to myself, ‘I’ll never lose again.’ Now I’ve got a seven-fight winning streak. Whatever happens with Arlovski, I want to keep the door open [by winning]. I’m going to put my heart into it.”
Arlovski’s primary weapon is his striking, as proven by his most recent stoppage victories over Travis Fulton and Ray Lopez. Palelei feels he is well prepared for his opponent’s strengths, though.
“I need to keep my hands up, but I can take a punch. Arlovski’s got great stand up, he’s got great movement. You shouldn’t underestimate any opponent, whether people think he’s washed up or not. He’s in there to prove a point.”
Palelei’s confidence in his ability to survive against an elite striker is understandable, as he trains frequently with former K-1 Grand Prix Champion and current UFC competitor, Mark Hunt.
“I’m pretty sure he [Arlovski] doesn’t hit as hard as Mark Hunt,” Palelei added.
While he isn’t worried about a striking match against Arlovski, Palelei, who is a decorated wrestler and a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, knows he would likely have the edge on the mat, should the fight go there.
“I think if it went to the ground, it would be a big advantage for me. But you know, we’ll see. I can keep it standing. I can keep it on the ground. It’s a secret,” said Palelei, reluctant to reveal too much about his game plan.
Lately, Palelei has been fighting extremely frequently, entering the cage seven times since last June. Yet despite the rapid-fire approach he is taking, he does not feel that fighting so often is having any adverse affects on him.
“I just want to keep busy and keep active,” he explained. “When I last fought in the UFC, I took a break after that. It was one of those fights you want to forget. It was a nightmare kind of fight. It was the nerves that kind of got to me but, you know what? You learn from your mistakes.
“I didn’t want to get to 45 or 50 years old and think to myself ‘Man I should have (fought more). So I’m just trying to keep racking up the wins and keep fighting and see where it takes me.”
Regardless of the outcome of his fight with Arlovski, Palelei plans to stay busy and is eager to see what opportunities come his way in the future. If he isn’t signed by the UFC in the near future, Palelei has no preferences as far as future opponents go.
“You know what, I don’t really care. I just want to fight. I’ve been doing it a long time, (even when) the whole MMA scene kind of erupted. I’ve traveled all over the world. I lived in Brazil. I’ve been to Japan and Hawaii.”
When it all goes down on August 31 and Palelei takes the next step in his lengthy career, he promises an entertaining, if only brief fight with Arlovski.
“It’s going to be like someone’s throwing karate chops and triple-spinning-kicks in the air and all that fancy stuff that happens in movies, and then someone’s going to get knocked out. I don’t see this fight going three rounds. Arlovski is a very explosive fighter when he starts going and starts getting his confidence up. If I contain that, I’ll be good. We’re both explosive fighters and it’s going to be a good fight.”