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UFC pioneer Paul Varelans dies of COVID-19 at 51

Yahoo! Sports logo Yahoo! Sports 1/19/2021 Jason Owens
UFC lost one of its pioneers to COVID-19. (Jasen Vinlove/Reuters) © Provided by Yahoo! Sports UFC lost one of its pioneers to COVID-19. (Jasen Vinlove/Reuters)

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.

His girlfriend Kim Watson confirmed the news to ESPN on Monday after social media reports of his death over the weekend.

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.

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.


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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.

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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