Friday, March 07, 2008

INTO THE FIRE - Recovered from Spinal Surgery, O’Brien Targets Arlovski at UFC 82

Originally posted By Mike Russell ( on

Walking out of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla., on Jan. 25, 2007, Jake O’Brien felt like he was on top of the world. He’d just won the biggest fight in his mixed martial arts career – a unanimous decision victory over Heath Herring, which spoiled the Pride veteran’s Octagon debut at UFC Fight Night 8. The sky seemed to be the limit.

Six months later, the stresses of the life he had chosen became too much for his body to bear. A neck injury sustained while wrestling for Purdue University returned with a vengeance, sending shockwaves down his spine and into his extremities. Although he tried to ignore the pain, it ultimately overcame him, and the then 22-year-old pulled out of his planned bout with Tom Murphy at UFC 72.

Though he’d never conceded defeat in 12 amateur and professional fights, the Integrated Fighting Arts heavyweight admits he knew he could no longer ignore the signs. “I’d been having stingers ever since wrestling in college,” O’Brien says. “It got to the point where I was totally numb down my right arm, and I knew something wasn’t right.” Indeed, something was very wrong. Doctors handed him a diagnosis he wasn’t ready to hear – the surgery he would have to undergo had the potential to end his career.

Surgeons, using a titanium plate, attached an artificial lumbar disc to his spine. O’Brien was told he would have to wait and see how his body healed before he would know the fate of his MMA future. Doctors gave him Jan. 10 – six months after the operation – as a pivotal date in his recovery. By that time, they said, they would be able to determine whether or not the procedure had succeeded.

According to O’Brien, who turned pro straight out of college and had been competing ever since, six months seemed like an eternity.

“I had to take a lot of time off after my surgery, and actually, I was back training earlier than my doctor wanted me to be,” O’Brien says. “I started training again in November, and I haven’t had any problems.”

Soon, the Octagon beckoned. The call to the cage was followed by a call from UFC officials who were eager for news on O’Brien’s potential return. They were pleasantly surprised to learn the Indianapolis-born heavyweight was raring to go.

“The UFC called and asked me if I wanted a tune-up fight outside of the UFC – like in a small show or something – and I said, ‘Hell, no!’ I didn’t want to risk it,” O’Brien says. “You lose outside of the UFC, and you’re done; there goes your contract. I’ve been out for so long. I needed a big opponent to get excited about to help motivate me.”

O’Brien (10-0, 3-0 UFC) got his wish. As far as name recognition is concerned, few in the division carry the weight of an Andrei Arlovski. Some feel O’Brien may have bitten off more than he can chew when he agreed to face “The Pitbull” at UFC 82 “Pride of a Champion” on Saturday at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. O’Brien claims to have a few tricks up his sleeve for the Belarusian.

“Everybody knows that I need to put [Arlovski] on his back to beat him; it’s no secret,” O’Brien says. “I’m going to keep him guessing throughout the fight. I have a game plan to beat him, which, of course, is easier said than done. Now, it’s just a matter of doing it.”

Arlovski (11-5, 9-4 UFC) – on the last fight of his current contract with the UFC – hasn’t fought since April, but unlike O’Brien, he’s been afforded the opportunity to train on a consistent basis. Only a bitter re-negotiation period with the UFC kept the former heavyweight champion out of the cage. Perhaps the biggest question surrounding O’Brien’s return is whether or not the 13-month absence from competition will affect his performance.

“I really don’t think ring rust will be too much of a factor,” O’Brien says. “I’ve had 12 fights, and before I made it to the UFC, all of my fights were only a couple minutes long, so I really don’t think I’ve had enough experience for it to affect me.”

Enlisting the aid of UFC veterans Chris Lytle, Dan Christison and Josh Shockman, O’Brien believes he’s ready to pass the toughest test of his career, whether he’s on his feet or on the ground. His boxing skills have been the focus of his training camp.

“I’ve always done a lot of boxing, but I’ve done even more this time,” O’Brien says. “I’m concentrating more on keeping my hands up so I don’t get hit over the top like [Arlovski] likes to throw his punches.”

O’Brien’s respect for Arlovski, long considered one of the world’s top 10 heavyweights, runs deep and with good reason. He holds victories over Tim Sylvia, Paul Buentello, Fabricio Werdum and Vladimir Matyushenko. Few can match Arlovski’s physical tools.

“He’s definitely going to be a tougher opponent than Heath [Herring],” O’Brien says. “He’s stronger, faster and better in every area. It’s going to be a battle; that’s for sure.”



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