UFC paid homage with an 'In Memoriam' slide ahead of UFC Fight Island 8 to one of its pioneers, 'Polar Bear' Paul Varelans, who died on January 16 due to COVID-19.
The 51-year-old made his UFC debut back in 1995 at UFC 6 against Cal Worsham. Although Paul Varelans had an average record of four wins and three losses in his career with the promotion, 'Polar Bear' left an important legacy for the sport as one of the first figures to develop a fan base.
Paul Varelans contracted COVID-19 in mid-December 2020 and was battling the disease since then. He was admitted to Emory University Hospital Midtown and was put into a medically induced coma after his symptoms worsened.
MMA fans, fighters, and other figures related to the sport have been sharing memories and homages to the memory of Paul Varelans on social media.
Ahead of UFC Fight Island 8 in Abu Dhabi, the promotion also remembered one of its pioneers.
Paul Varelans described his experience battling the disease on his Facebook account:
"I have never felt so sick in my life, going to get tested today," Paul Varelans wrote on his Facebook page on December 10, 2020. "Actually, this is how I felt before UFC 7 when I had flu. I hope it's a flu. Either way, it's time for raw garlic and sh*t loads of grapefruit."
Two days later, he updated his condition:
"So it's official I am COVID-19 positive. And feel like hell. 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 they never stop coming," Paul Varelans wrote.
Paul Varelans' career in the UFC
Paul Varelans was better known for his size. Standing at 6 ft 8, the former UFC fighter is one of the tallest athletes to have competed in the promotion to this day. Besides the size and weight - over 300 pounds - Paul Varelans had a friendly temper, thus nicknamed 'The Polar Bear.'
Because of Paul Varelans' size, the UFC decided to redesign its original cage to the octagon known today. The fence was made taller and the cage larger.
He made his UFC debut at UFC 6 in July 1995, when he defeated Cal Worsham with a first-round KO. Paul Varelans then got knocked out at the semi-finals of the tournament by Tank Abbott.
'Polar Bear' competed in three more UFC events, getting to the finals in UFC 7, where he got beaten by Marco Ruas. His defeat to Ruas marked the first time a fight ended with leg kicks.