Paul Varelans, a prominent fighter from UFC’s early days in the mid 1990s, died on Saturday after a battle with COVID-19. He was 51 years old.
Nicknamed “The Polar Bear,” the 6-8, 300-pound heavyweight born in Sunnyvale, California compiled a 4-4 UFC record and a 9-9 overall tally as an MMA fighter. According to UFC, Varelans continued to fight on the MMA circuit until 1998 after the conclusion of his UFC career.
UFC pioneer Paul Varelans has sadly died of COVID-19 at just age 51 pic.twitter.com/bFjkRn0lTt
— MMA Madness (@MartialArtsMad) January 18, 2021
Varelans fought on early UFC cards.
Varelans fought in UFC 6, 7 and 8 in 1995 and 1996, long before UFC became a mainstream success staging monthly pay-per-view cards.
Varelans was admitted to an Atlanta hospital in December and eventually placed in a coma. He documented his experience with COVID-19 on social media before his condition worsened.
I was Facebook friendly with Paul Varelans. Following his COVID journey was tough. He got hit hard and five days later was being put in a medically induced coma.
There was some hope a couple of weeks ago. He was breathing 70% on his own. But eventually it overwhelmed him. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/f0BXVxZm3S
— The OFFICIAL MMA Encyclopedia (@JESnowden) January 17, 2021
Varelans: COVID-19 like ‘kidney punches they never stop coming’
“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,” Varelans wrote on Dec. 13.
According to ESPN, Varelans wrestled and played football at West Valley High School in Fairbanks, Alaska before playing college football at San Jose State.
“Besides all of his athletic accomplishments, he was just really loved,” Watson told ESPN. “He loved kids and animals. He was very kindhearted.”
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