Paul Varelans, One of UFC's First Stars, Dies of COVID-19: A 'Pioneer of the Sport'

Paul Varelans, a former MMA fighter who was one of the first standouts of the UFC, has died after a month-long battle with coronavirus.

According to USA Today, Varelans — who went by the nickname "The Polar Bear" during his fighting career — died at age 51 on Saturday. He was hospitalized for weeks after contracting the deadly respiratory virus in early December.

Varelans was a fan favorite during the 1990s when he amassed a 9-9 MMA record and 4-4 record in the UFC, Yahoo Sports reported.

Shortly after he displayed coronavirus symptoms, Varelans wrote about his experience on Facebook.

"I have never felt so sick in my life, going to get tested today," he wrote on Dec. 10. "Actually this is how I felt before UFC 7 when I had flu. I hope it's a flu. Either way it's time for raw garlic and sh-t loads of grapefruit."

Two days later, Varelans said he had tested positive for coronavirus and he was feeling "like hell."

"Best way I can compare the [feeling] of covid-19 in my experience is it's like fighting a guy who specializes in kidney punches, they never stop coming," he wrote in a Dec. 13 update to his Facebook page, which would be his last. According to USA Today, Varelans spent his final days on a ventilator.

Bellator commentator John McCarthy paid tribute to Varelans with a post on Saturday.

"RIP Paul Varelans. You left us far too soon," he tweeted. "People talk about Pioneers of MMA all the time bringing up names that came into the game years after it began. You were truly one of the pioneers of the sport starting all the way back at UFC 6. Rest in Power my friend!"

Peter Christensen, an MMA announcer, also remembered Varelans with a message to social media.

"I am sad not just because he is gone, but because his last days were spent like that," he said of the former fighter's diagnosis. "The Polar Bear gave us some great battles in the early days of the UFC."

As of Monday afternoon, nearly 24 million Americans have been infected by coronavirus since the start of the pandemic early last year. According to a New York Times database, 397,612 others have died from the illness so far, with 1,730 of those deaths occurring on Sunday alone.

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