A fan favorite from the UFC’s tournament days died Saturday.
Paul Varelans, a popular 6-foot-8 fighter nicknamed “The Polar Bear,” died after a month-long battle with COVID-19, according to multiple posts on his Facebook page. A person close to Varelans’ family confirmed his death to MMA Junkie. Varelans was 51.
Varelans was infected with COVID-19 in early-to-mid December. Varelans, who posted on Facebook as his condition worsened, had been in a medically induced coma at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
A few days after Varelans’ final update, UFC co-founder and Hall of Famer Art Davie announced he was on a respirator and in a coma.
After a collegiate football career at San Jose State, Varlens (9-9 MMA, 4-4 UFC) made his debut in 1995 at the legendary UFC 6 event in Casper, Wyo. He finished Cal Worsham in the quarterfinals in 62 seconds by knockout with elbows before getting TKO’d by Tank Abbott in the semis.
At UFC 7 in Buffalo, N.Y., Varelans got all the way to the final, as he submitted Gerry Harris in the quarterfinals and Mark Hall in the semis before getting TKO’d by Marco Raus at the 13:17 mark of the no rounds, no time limit final.
Varelans made two more UFC appearances, earning a decision over Joe Moreira and losing to Kimo Leopoldo at Ultimate Ultimate ’96. His final bout was a knockout of Dick Vrij on a Rings card in 1998 in Amsterdam.
Varelans also dabbled in pro wrestling, making a 1996 appearance in the infamous ECW promotion in Philadelphia.
Tributes poured in Saturday as the news of Varelans’ death spread: