Paul Varelans might not be the first name someone thinks of when it comes to the UFC. However, the late fighter helped anchor in the early days of the fight conglomerate when it was still a niche market trying to find its ground.
Varelans only fought for three years, but his impact on the sport remains 23 years after his final fight. Varelans recently passed away after a battle with COVID-19, but his legacy lives on through friends and those inspired by him.
Who was UFC fighter Paul Varelans?
Varelans made his UFC debut at UFC 6 in about against Cal Worsham, according to Sher Dog. It took all of one minute for Varelans, who stood a mind-boggling 6’8″ tall and weighed over 300-lbs to knock his opponent out with a single elbow. Varelans went on to have a mixed bag of results. He lost his second UFC fight to David Abbott only to win five of his next eight bouts.
However, he never reached the heights of modern fighters. Back in his days, UFC fights happened at whatever small venue was willing to take them during a time when cities and states were banning violent bloodsport for being too brutal.
However, in just three years with the company, Varelans helped anchor it in and lead the way for Conor McGregor, Jon Jones, and other future champions.
His size made him a perfect gimmick to draw in fans. His fight against Joe Moreira, who was nine inches shorter and 100 pounds lighter, was billed as a modern David vs. Goliath.
However, unlike the biblical tale that inspired it, the giant won via unanimous decision. Varelans retired with a 9-9 record, 4-3 in the UFC, but his presence, charisma, and dominating size made him a legend of the sport.
Paul Varelans fights for his life
Varelans announced a COVID-19 diagnosis in mid-December, according to Sportskeeda.com, but while other prominent athletes have made seemingly quick recoveries, his lingered on for over a month and a half.
Varelans, who remained active on his social media accounts, gave fans personal updates throughout — telling them exactly how he was feeling, good or bad. He detailed the way the disease was knocking him down.
“Best way I can compare the feel of COVID-19 in my experience is, it’s like fighting a guy who specializes in kidney punches,” Varelans wrote in one post (per SportsKeeda). “They never stop coming.”
Unfortunately, his health deteriorated not long after, and by mid-January, things were looking down for the former fighter.
The tragic death of a UFC legend
Sadly, Paul Varelans passed away on January 16, 2020. He was 51 years old. While the fighting world mourned the loss of one of the sport’s biggest titans, they also paid tribute to a man who never stopped fighting in or out of the Octagon. His close friend, Shane Vien, wrote a touching tribute (per ESPN) to the fighter in a Facebook post.
“After a solid month of fighting off COVID while in a coma on various machinery fighting off multiple infections, Paul’s body finally grew exhausted,” Viens wrote (Per ESPN).
“Anyone that truly knew Paulie knew he was all heart. A fighter to his core, he was not one to give up and he [gave] us his all. He left us [Saturday] morning. I was able to tell him I loved him one last time on speakerphone.”
His girlfriend, Kim Watson, who fought by his side during his final weeks, painted a picture of a man who, while larger than life and a fighter by trade, was secretly a gentle soul inside.
“He loved kids and animals,” she said after the news of his death (Per ESPN).
“He was very kindhearted. I think most people see this imposing force of nature. But even still, when you were around him and knew him, you don’t realize he’s that big until people see him in the grocery store and say, ‘Oh, my God, how tall are you?'”
Varelans leaves a legacy that might not stretch far outside of UFC circles. His story shows how far the company has come since his day and how ahead of his time Varelans was.
The UFC paid tribute to him in the days following, sharing stories, mourning, and remembering all the positive memories he left behind. Varelans may be gone, but his legacy will never leave the octagon.