Jan. 19 (UPI) -- Paul Varelans, who fought in the early days of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, has died after he was diagnosed with COVID-19 and placed in a medically induced coma. He was 51.
The UFC said that Varelans died Saturday in Atlanta. Varelans announced his positive COVID-19 test result Dec. 12 on Facebook. He had been in a medically induced coma at Atlanta's Emory University Hospital until his death.
"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," Varelans wrote Dec. 13 on Facebook. "They never stop coming."
Varelans, also known as "The Polar Bear," weighed in at 6-foot-8 and 300 pounds. The Sunnyvale, Calif., native played football at San Diego State University and worked as a martial arts instructor before he joined UFC. He made his UFC debut in 1999, two years after the mixed martial arts platform launched.
Varelans had a 9-9 professional record and 4-4 record in UFC. He also had a brief tenure in Extreme Championship Wrestling.
"Few nicknames are as apt as the one given to Mr. Paul Varelans," the UFC said. "One look at the 6-foot-8, 300-pounder, and you would instantly agree that 'Polar Bear' fits the bill.
"But beyond his moniker, Varelans was a staple of the early UFC broadcasts, a powerful and effective fighter who was resilient in the face of danger, and who was able to beat fighters like Cal Worsham, Mark Hall, and Joe Moreira consistently.
"Yet when he stepped up against the next level of competition, UFC standouts like Tank Abbott, Marco Ruas, Dan Severn, and Kimo Leopoldo always prevailed. This pattern continued in his post-UFC career, which lasted until 1998. with losses against Igor Vovchanchyn and Mark Kerr."