Vadim Nemkov won the biggest victory of his career in April. Light heavyweight champion Bellator won his first title defense by beating Phil davis, the former Bellator champion and UFC mainstay at 205 pounds, by unanimous decision.
It was a victory that kept the big MMA world from ignoring the Russian fighting calm. Nemkov is now firmly established as one of the best light heavyweights on the planet, regardless of his promotion. ESPN ranks Nemkov No. 5 in the weight class in the world.
Yet despite the importance of the victory, Nemkov was unhappy with the pure aesthetics of the fight.
“The way my last fight with Phil Davis went was completely unexpected, and it didn’t go according to my plan at all,” he said in an interview with Bellator this month. “I couldn’t relax. That’s why the fight was so slow.”
Nemkov promises a different story this time around. He puts the title on the line against Julius Anglickas in the main event of the Bellator 268 Saturday in Phoenix. This fight will also serve as the semi-final of the Bellator Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix. Nemkov’s original opponent, twice challenger for the UFC title Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, took of due to “serious” illness.
The fact that Nemkov is a favorite over 3-1 against Anglickas suggests that there is no longer any doubt around the 29-year-old champion, a protégé of the legendary Fedor Emelianenko. Nemkov had already claimed victory over Davis in the April fight, but it was by split decision in a fight that many believed Davis had won. Nemkov left no doubt in the rematch. And now, with this five-round fight under his belt, he thinks he will have an even better approach.
“The most important lesson I have learned from this fight is that now I know I can fight five rounds at high speed,” Nemkov said. “It gave me a lot more confidence in my cardio.”
He will need those things in this tournament, even if not against the substitute Anglickas. If Nemkov wins on Saturday, he will defend his title in the final against the winner of the co-main event between Corey anderson and Ryan bader, a pair of former UFC contenders who have an oppressive fight and knockout power. Nemkov took the belt from Bader via TKO in the second round in August 2020.
“I didn’t think about the fight between Ryan Bader and Corey Anderson at all,” Nemkov said. “I have to prepare for my fight. That’s my only concern.”
Here are two more interesting scenarios before the Bellator 268:
Can Corey Anderson make his move to Bellator a success?
In August 2020, a startling news broke that Anderson had asked to withdraw from his UFC contract, secured that release and then signed with Bellator. It was a risky move. The UFC remains the destination for the vast majority of the best fighters in the world to compete. But Anderson had his differences with the UFC on many levels and rolled the dice to bet on himself.
It looks like the move has already been a success for Anderson. In April, he tweeted that in just six months and two fights with Bellator, he had made double what he had won in 15 fights in seven years with the UFC. It’s no small feat, and with Anderson being in a better position to support himself and his family, it’s absolutely huge. Now he has the chance to add some important athletic achievements to these paydays.
Anderson faces Bader in the semi-finals of the Bellator Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix on Saturday. Bader is sort of an ancestor of Anderson. He left the UFC on a two-game winning streak in 2017 to sign with Bellator, then went on to become the Bellator light heavyweight and heavyweight champion. This last title he still holds.
A win here for Anderson would arguably be the biggest of his career, preparing for a Bellator title fight. ESPN ranks Anderson No. 8 and Bader No. 9 in the light heavyweight world. So, despite the promotional name on the banner, this fight has real significance when it comes to bragging rights of 205 pounds.
MMA couple come full circle
Benson henderson successfully defended his UFC lightweight title against Gilbert melendez in April 2013. As part of his post-fight interview, Henderson took a ring from his longtime trainer, John Crouch, knelt down and proposed in the Octagon to his girlfriend from the era, Maria Magana. She said yes.
Today, more than eight years later, Maria Magana is Maria Henderson. And she also fights in MMA. On Saturday, for the first time, Benson Henderson and his wife, Maria Henderson, will face off on the same card. Benson to face former Bellator lightweight champion Brent Primus. Maria will open the preliminary part of the event in an amateur fight against Collette Santiago.
The sentimental value of the situation aside, it’s a big fight for Benson, 37. He’s lost two games in a row after a four-game winning streak and Primus is a very tough test. MMA is really a type of sport you’ve been doing for me lately. Benson hasn’t been the UFC Champion since 2013, but he’s still one of the best 155-pound fighters in MMA history. It is linked with Khabib Nurmagomedov, BJ Penn and Frankie edgar for the most successful title defenses in UFC lightweight history (3).
Penn is already in the UFC Hall of Fame and Nurmagomedov and Edgar surely will be too. Benson should definitely get the call for that induction someday in the future, but by then he has a chance to solidify an already outstanding resume this weekend on the same card as his wife.
The full Saturday fight card
Show time, 10 p.m. ET
Light Heavyweight Championship *: Vadim Nemkov (c) vs. Julius Anglickas
Semi-heavyweight *: Ryan bader vs. Corey anderson
Lightweight: Benson henderson vs. Brent Primus
Men’s featherweight: Henri corrales vs. Vladislav Parubchenko
Bellator / Showtime YouTube Pages, 7:00 p.m.
Light heavy weight: Dovletdjan Yagshimuradov vs. Karl Albrektsson
Light heavy weight: Sullivan Cauley vs. Deon Clash
Lightweight: Nick browne vs. Bobby lee
Average weight : Javier Torres placeholder image vs. Gregory Milliard
Fly weight: Sumiko inaba vs. Randi field
Lightweight: Lance Gibson Jr. vs. Raymond Pina
Bantam-weight: Raphaël Montini of Lima vs. Jaylon bates
Welterweight: Moukhamed Berkhamov vs. Jaleel willis
Strawweight (amateurs): Collette Santiago vs. Maria Henderson
* = semi-finals of the Bellator Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix
(c) = defending champion