If there's a high-profile MMA fighter in need of a big win at the moment, it's former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei (Pitbull) Arlovski.
The dangerous Belarusian striker was one of the sport's hottest free agents only two years ago, when he thumbed his nose at the UFC, eventually signing with the now-defunct Affliction promotion.
Arlovski (15-7) got off to a good start, scoring knockout wins over current UFC fighters (Big) Ben Rothwell and Roy (Big Country) Nelson. However, things came crashing down in January 2009 when top heavyweight Fedor (The Last Emperor) Emelianenko delivered a highlight-reel knockout that saw him swat Arlovski out of mid-air like a fly.
Things only got worse for Arlovski last June, as he was stopped by heavyweight prospect Brett (The Grim) Rogers in 22 seconds. Arlovski admitted he didn't consider Rogers (10-1) to be a real challenge.
"He beat me in like 20 seconds, but I didn't take that fight seriously," Arlovski said on a Strikeforce conference call. "I said, 'Okay, Rogers? Come on' and then KO -- that was it; John McCarthy stopped the fight."
In the span of five months, Arlovski went from being a top 10 heavyweight to off many people's radar.
"For nine months I'm on the bench with no fights," Arlovski said. "At that time I didn't have a contract and I would say I was miserable. Now, I just have to climb back to the top."
Arlovski gets his chance when he faces the first and only EliteXC heavyweight champion, Antonio (Big Foot) Silva, in the co-main event of "Strikeforce St. Louis: Heavy Artillery" on May 15 at the Scottrade Center. The headlining bout will see Alistair (Demolition Man) Overeem defend his Strikeforce heavyweight title against Rogers.
Arlovski said he can't afford to lose against Silva (13-2).
"It's very important, especially after the two losses to Emelianenko and Rogers," Arlovski said. "I didn't fight for almost nine months and I cannot wait to fight again.
"Silva's a black belt (in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu); he's very dangerous on the ground...He's a well-rounded fighter. He's a good striker, he's great on the ground and has long arms. He's very dangerous and I have to be very prepared for this fight."
For Silva, this is an opportunity to get back on track following a close unanimous decision loss to Fabricio (Vai Cavalo) Werdum in November.
"(The loss to Werdum) was a big lesson for me," Silva said through his translator. "I learned that if I have an opportunity to finish the fight, I have to go ahead and do it. I had that opportunity, I did not do it. I fractured my hand, but I'm not going to let something like this happen again.
"I've started training again with my old striking coach, Mohamed Ouali. I've concentrated a lot on improving my striking and I'm going to be looking for (Arlovski's) head."