Bellator MMA now has not one but two Russians
holding iron grips on its divisions.


Bellator 288
came to a head with the second attempt of the
finals of Bellator’s light heavyweight tournament. A rematch seven
months in the making, and the conclusion of a tourney that began on
April 9, 2021, ended with a 205-pound scrap between Vadim
Nemkov
and Corey
Anderson
. Although much of their first fight took place on the
ground, this battle carried on for 25 minutes exclusively on the
feet. Russia’s Nemkov never slowed or wavered, and he claimed a
hard-fought unanimous decision win with one score of 48-47 and two
of 49-46.

The eight-man bracket commenced in 2021 with Ryan Bader,
Lyoto
Machida
, Anderson, Dovletdzhan
Yagshimuradov
, champ Nemkov, Phil Davis,
the late Anthony
Johnson
and
Jose Augusto Azevedo Barros
. The semifinals whittled down to
Bader, Anderson, Nemkov and replacement Julius
Anglickas
, and the initial Nemkov-Anderson finals match took
place in April. The million-dollar bracket was not ready to end
just yet, as an accidental clash of heads resulted in a no contest,
and the pairing pushed back seven months to this fight card. While
Anderson had largely dominated the first meeting until the
stoppage, the Russian champion made sure history would not repeat
itself.



Nemkov (15-2, 1 NC; 8-0, 1 NC BMMA) made certain that at least in
the opening minutes, the grappling successes of Anderson (16-6, 1
NC; 3-1, 1 NC BMMA) from their first meeting would not be
replicated. The Russian staved off takedown efforts and kept
Anderson honest on the feet, scoring with his hands and mixing in
both effective and flashy kicks for good measure. With seconds to
spare in the first round, a spinning wheel kick from the defending
champ rang off the dome of the former UFC fighter. With Nemkov
nearly firing off a soccer kick that would have been quite illegal,
Anderson managed to recover and made it to the bell, and appeared
no worse for wear.

The University of Wisconsin–Whitewater wrestler shot early and
often to disrupt the striking rhythm of his opponent, but his
efforts fell short as Nemkov’s footwork and balance kept him from
getting grounded. The American Top Team-trained Nemkov showcased
his fast hand speed and impressive head movement to keep Anderson
guessing and largely land without absorbing counters. “Overtime”
could not buy a takedown, and he began to stalk down the champion
and throw bombs. Nemkov speedily retorted with blows that busted
Sanderson’s right eye open, but the undaunted challenger refused to
take his foot off the gas even as he continued to take damage.

The championship rounds were more of the same, as Nemkov’s jab
proved the difference-maker to keep Anderson at bay. Nemkov fought
off the advancing challenger with nasty leg kicks, belting the left
calf of his opponent and even dropping Anderson to his knees after
connecting once. Try as he might, Anderson could not secure a
takedown, all while Nemkov worked him over with offense to all
targets. An urgent “Overtime” rushed out of his corner in the fifth
stanza, under the expectation he likely needed a finish, and Nemkov
sensed this and never stopped moving. The American kept a stiff
upper lip and disguised a limp that developed after repeated
unchecked calf kicks, but it was not meant to be. Nemkov maintained
a high work rate for all five rounds, sealing the deal and claiming
the clear-cut victory.

Nemkov shut down any detractors while becoming $1 million richer,
as he prevailed in the grand prix with his statement performance.
His next opponent met him in the cage right after he had his hand
raised, as former top Ultimate Fighting Championship contender
Yoel
Romero
will be his next test in the co-headliner of Bellator
290 in February.



The co-main attraction saw Patricky
Freire
put his lightweight strap on the line for the first time
against unblemished Dagestan native Usman
Nurmagomedov
. The 24-year-old American Kickboxing Academy
displayed all of his skills in a complete and one-sided effort,
dominating Freire over all five rounds. The judges handed in
tallies of 50-45, 50-44 and 50-44, with victory for the new
champion rarely in any doubt.

The champ spent the majority of the first round gauging the
challenger, but Nurmagomedov (16-0, 5-0 BMMA) did far more,
spamming kicks to mark up Freire’s (24-11, 15-9 BMMA) body and lead
leg. Partway through the second round, the Russian chained a clean
left hand into a solid double-leg entry, and he spent the next few
minutes punishing “Pitbull” from top position. Freire attempted to
escape with seconds remaining in the round, spurring Nurmagomedov
into action. The undefeated fighter poured it on with punches and
ferocious elbows, nearly earning a stoppage only for the bell to
save Freire.

Nurmagomedov hoped to pick up where he left off, hunting for trips
or any kind of level change to disrupt and put Freire on his back.
When not on the mat, he potshotted the Brazilian with reaching
kicks, frustrating the lightweight titleholder and rolling with the
worst of the blows. The crowd grew restless as Freire responded
with little in the way of offense, while Nurmagomedov appeared to
reach cruising altitude. “Pitbull” had no answers for the kicking
game of his foe, as he loaded up on more powerful but ultimate
inaccurate winging strikes that the Russian dodged with ease.

With his corner, including brother Patricio
Freire
, incensed at his lack of activity and disappointing
performance thus far, they urged him into immediate action. This
worked, as Freire raced out of his corner for the last round, where
he began to lay into the challenger with heavy right hands.
Nurmagomedov reeled and showboated a little, before hitting a slick
takedown to deflate the energized Brazilian. After a few grinding
minutes for the unbeaten man, a bloodied Freire exploded upright.
This proved fruitless, as Nurmagomedov almost instantly landed a
mat return. With one minute left on the clock, “Pitbull” spun
around and got bucked off to force them back to their feet. Freire
threw with everything he had left, but the younger man proved too
elusive to absorb anything serious flush before time ran out.

While two of his three career decision victories have come under
the Bellator banner, Nurmagomedov successfully claimed the
155-pound throne and elevated himself to a perfect 16-0.

Dagestan has another talented up-and-comer on its hands with
Timur
Khizriev
, who made a splash with Bellator by defeating two-time
145-pound title challenger Daniel
Weichel
. As he has in six of his last eight victories, Khizriev
required the full allotted time to get his hand raised. When the
dust settled, “Imam” earned scores of 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 to
pick up the unanimous decision win.

The majority of the contest played out on the feet, and Khizriev
(12-0, 1-0 BMMA) proved the quicker and far more accurate of the
two. Clocking in just about 11 years older than his adversary,
Weichel (42-14, 11-6 BMMA) measured up a step slower while getting
beaten to the punch repeatedly. Effective kicks sprinkled into
combinations allowed Khizriev to gain the upper hand in the first
two rounds. Likely down on the scorecards, the German showed signs
of life midway through the last round. Threatening with submissions
off his back including a Suloev stretch, and ringing the Dagestan
native’s bell with a flying knee, “Drake” had his moments but could
not do enough damage to get Khizriev out of there. Ultimately, his
late aggression swayed one judge to presumably consider that round
in his favor, but it was not nearly enough to get his hand
raised.

Khizriev boosted his spotless record to 12-0 as a pro in his
successful promotional debut, doing so by knocking off Bellator’s
seventh-ranked featherweight.

Daniel
James
made the most of his return to the Bellator ranks, as he
previously made his pro debut with the league in 2014. Stepping up
to face homegrown heavyweight talent Tyrell
Fortune
,
James knocked Fortune’s block off with a brutal uppercut and
follow-up strikes
. The stoppage came 27 seconds into
Round 2.

James (14-6-1, 2-0 BMMA) had moments early in the opening frame,
but Fortune’s (12-3, 1 NC; 12-3, 1 NC BMMA) wrestling turned the
tables after landing a knee to the groin. The Bellator stalwart
kept James on his seat for much of the round, preferring control
time over damaging offense until he caught James in a scramble. The
former ACA champion walked up the cage and wound up in rear-naked
choke danger, only to survive with savvy hand-fighting and spin
around to hammer Fortune with powerful ground strikes until the
bell. “The American Predator” ripped a massive uppercut that sent
Fortune crashing to the mat just seconds into Round 2. A barrage of
fists and elbows to a downed Fortune, including a questionable few
that landed behind the ear, prompted referee Rob Madrigal to call
the fight.

The victorious James announced himself to the organization as the
no. 5 heavyweight, while lifting his career finish rate to a
stellar 93%.

The main card commenced with a welterweight tilt that likely
promised a spot in Bellator’s top 10, as the 10th-ranked Roman
Faraldo
(8-1, 5-1 BMMA) battled it out with Georgia’s Levan
Chokheli
(11-2, 1 NC; 2-2 BMMA). The fight that took place
everywhere, and featured a little bit of everything, resulted in a
decision win for the Phoenix Sportakademie Kassel prospect, who
earned three matching scores of 29-27.

Over the course of three rounds, the two engaged with wild
back-and-forth exchanges, replete with several momentum shifts.
Coming into this encounter with Chokheli, Faraldo had never before
seen a third round as a pro, with all eight of his previous outings
ending by knockout within 9:09. The pace and wrestling of Chokheli
appeared to get the better of his opponent by Round 3, as he landed
cleaner and grounded the undefeated Floridian to take the wind out
of his sails and shut down any chance of a comeback. Referee Rob
Madrigal deducted one point from Faraldo in the second round due to
repeated fence grabs, and did so without disrupting the action or
compromising a position.

The loss marks the first in Faraldo’s career, while the 26-year-old
from Georgia earned just his second win on the scorecards.

In preliminary action, middleweight Imamshafi
Aliev
(9-0, 1-0 BMMA) elbowed Sean
Connor Fallon
’s (16-8, 0-1 BMMA)
face open to force a doctor stoppage
at 3:20 of the
first round; 155er Killys Mota
(14-3, 3-2 BMMA) grinded out Jairo
Pacheco
(7-1, 0-1 BMMA) to pick up a grueling decision win with
a trio of 30-27 scores; Archie
Colgan
(6-0, 3-0 BMMA)
blew through
Jesse
Hannam
(2-2, 0-1 BMMA) in 50 seconds to stay undefeated as a
lightweight; Sullivan
Cauley
(5-0, 5-0 BMMA) made a statement to fellow light
heavyweights by sending Jay Radick
(3-1, 0-1 BMMA) to the
danger zone with vicious ground-and-pound
, forcing
referee Jason Herzog to dive in at 1:01 of Round 1; rising
middleweight Jordan
Newman
(5-0, 5-0 BMMA) bullied Jayden
Taulker
(2-3, 0-1 BMMA) before
locking up a second-round rear-naked choke
, with the
tap coming at 3:20; unbeaten 145-pounder Laird
Anderson
(3-0, 3-0 BMMA) crucified Rob Fenicle
(2-3, 1-1 BMMA) in the second round,
drumming Fenicle out
at 2:28 with elbows and punches;
Isaiah
Hokit
(2-1, 2-1 BMMA)
beat down outmatched
featherweight Matias
Nader
(3-1, 0-1 BMMA) to procure the stoppage at 3:48 into the
second frame; the night began with heavyweight Wladimir
Gouvea
(1-0, 1-0 BMMA) making his successful pro debut by

clobbering
Kory
Moegenburg
(2-5, 0-2 BMMA) with a knee and punches at 1:46 of
Round 2.





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Vadim Nemkov Stifles Corey Anderson in Dominant Bellator 288 Performance

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