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Arnold Allen explains latest layoff, lack of UFC hype: ‘I’m the only one to blame’

UFC 239: Melendez v Allen
Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC

The pattern has become all too familiar for Arnold Allen.

It happens almost every year. The featherweight contender competes early in the calendar cycle and wins yet another UFC bout, only to get sidelined for rest of the year after some unforeseen misfortune strikes him down the moment he builds any shred of momentum.

Allen is on the seventh year of his octagon journey and has fought just once a year a staggering total of six different times. Unfortunately, 2021 will no different. The 27-year-old Englishman is still recovering from a broken left hand he suffered in his April win over Sodiq Yusuff and revealed on The MMA Hour that he won’t return until 2022.

“So after the fight, the UFC gave me the option to go and sit with their doctors, or I’d go out and eat pizza — and I took the option to go and eat pizza,” Allen explained Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “And by the time I got back to England, I had it scanned and then they misdiagnosed it. It was, ‘Oh, it’s a bit of bruising, it’s OK. Give it some time.’ And then fast forward eight weeks later, I had another scan and they’re like, ‘Oh no, it’s broken in three places and it’s got a ligament torn off,’ and all this. So it’s just [been] a long, long wait.

“To be fair, it’s my fault for being a dummy,” he added.

Allen said he is working with the hand specialist of former heavyweight boxing champion Andy Joshua and is still mired in the rehabilitation stage of his recovery. He’s hopeful that he should be 100 percent healthy and cleared to resume training by Christmas.

It’s yet another tough break for a man who is considered by many to be a dark horse of the UFC’s loaded 145-pound division. Allen is currently the No. 11 ranked featherweight on MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings, however his position is largely just a reflection of his own inactivity, because when he does compete, “Almighty” has been among the division’s best. He’s a perfect 8-0 under the UFC umbrella and has beaten a handful of notable names, from decision wins over Yusuff and former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez, to a highlight-reel third-round stoppage of current Bellator contender Mads Burnell.

In a strange way, his situation parallels the plight of his countryman Leon Edwards, only Allen may be even unluckier than the welterweight standout, if that’s possible.

“Yeah,” Allen admitted when asked if he feels like the Edwards of the 145-pound division. “But I’ve had a lot of setbacks and all that crap. And momentum, I haven’t capitalized on it. I haven’t knocked people out in fights where maybe I should have finished. I’m the only one to blame, I think. And fans have a short memory, don’t they? They sort of remember the exciting stuff like that. No one sort of remembers the decision guys. And I don’t really talk crap about people, I’m not out here shouting about how good I am, so no one really cares.”

All things considered, it’s been a frustrating road for one of England’s best hopes for UFC belt, so Allen can’t fault any fans who have forgotten his existence in the division’s queue. Six of his eight octagon victories have come via decisions and Allen has only nabbed one UFC post-fight bonus, which arrived back in 2018 for his finish of Burnell.

By fighting only once a year in every year except for one since 2015, he simply hasn’t given himself a chance to attract the kind of hype many of his contemporaries have, including featherweights who started their UFC runs long after Allen did such as Giga Chikadze.

“I’m just so used to it on. I just accept it,” Allen said. “You can’t control things. All I can control is being fit and training, and I haven’t missed [any training]. Well actually, that’s a lie — I missed two weeks of training when I was in the cast, but I haven’t missed any training really. I’ve done this before, I’ve had hand injuries. I’ve been sparring one-handed, so I’ve just been thinking of a way to improve my kicks or improve something or work on my fitness, be fit. There’s always something you can do, whatever obstacle you’ve got.”

For now, Allen is targeting a return in early 2022 and hopes that the new year can be the year that finally breaks his cycle of frustration. There’s an event on his birthday that he’s eyeing — UFC 270 on January 22 — though he knows that’s likely too soon. There’s also been talk of a London show sometime in March that may make for a fitting comeback.

Either way, Allen hopes to land an opponent who can put him back on people’s radars, and one-time UFC title challenger Chan Sung Jung may be the exact person to fit the bill.

“A few people suggested ‘Zombie’ and I really like the idea of that fight,” Allen said. “I grew up being a massive fan of ‘Korean Zombie,’ so it would be really cool to fight someone that. And I think that’s the kind of fight, he’s going to stand, he’s called the ‘Zombie’ for a reason — he stands and trades — so I think it’d be a good fight for me to sort of show what I can do.”

Fortunately, Allen is still young in the game, so that’s helped him take his roller-coaster UFC road in stride during his long stretches on the shelf. He said Wednesday that he wrote his goals down early on in his octagon career at the behest of former UFC middleweight Luke Barnatt. He carries them around in his wallet as a reminder and, despite the many delays, he’s still on track to accomplish everything on wanted on the timeline he gave himself.

He simply needs a clean bill of health to get back in there. And if nothing else, after this latest round of bad luck, Allen learned a valuable lesson he won’t soon forget.

“Big time,” Allen said. “I’ll be turning down the pizza next time. I’ll be going to doctors.”

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