Bellator’s light heavyweight tournament could be wrapped up in the next few months – either with a new champion or the continuing roll of the current one.
Champ Vadim Nemkov (15-2 MMA, 7-0 BMMA) will take on Corey Anderson (16-5 MMA, 3-0 BMMA) with not only his title on the line, but the tournament championship and a $1 million prize.
Bellator president Scott Coker said the Nemkov-Anderson final is likely to take place in the first quarter of this year.
“We’re looking at that fight to happen sometime in late February (or) early March – something like that,” Coker recently told MMA Junkie. “We’re trying to lock down the date right now. But we do want to get that light heavyweight tournament finished and have that fight, and both fighters feel like that’s a very good time frame. So we’ll probably have something to announce in the next couple weeks … and we’ll kind of lay out the schedule of that fight.”
Nemkov reached the final with wins over former champ Phil Davis and Julius Anglickas in 2021. He won the belt in August 2020 with a second-round knockout of former dual titleholder Ryan Bader. Anderson reached the final with a TKO of Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov in the opening round, then a 51-second TKO of Bader this past October.
Coker said the final might not necessarily be one he would have predicted, but is one he’s excited about.
“Both those guys are amazing,” he said. “These tournaments, you never know what’s going to happen. I always felt like in tournaments like this, let the best man win. Both of them are going to be fighting for $1 million prize money, so there’s a lot to fight for – a lot to really come out and bring it. It’ll be a nice payday for those guys, and I think winning that light heavyweight tournament is quite an accomplishment considering the eight athletes that we had to start with in that tournament. That was quite a gauntlet to get through.”
Coker also reiterated his stance that Bellator’s light heavyweight division is the best in the world – ahead of that of its biggest rival, the UFC.
In the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie light heavyweight rankings, UFC champion Glover Teixeira is No. 1, followed by the man he beat for the title, Jan Blachowicz. Former champ Jon Jones, who vacated the belt and is expected to eventually continue his career at heavyweight, sits at No. 3 for now, but will drop out of the rankings when he hits a period of two years of inactivity.
Nemkov is No. 4, followed by Anderson at No. 5. But Bellator also has Anthony Johnson at No. 7 and Bader at No. 8, plus Davis at No. 12.
Coker thinks the grit Anderson had to show in his win over Yagshimuradov helps make his case for Bellator having the best light heavyweight class.
“Look at Corey’s accomplishments, when he was with the UFC or here,” Coker said. “He’s a hell of a fighter. He really is. In his first tournament fight against (Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov), he was kind of behind the 8-ball after that first round. And I said, ‘Oh, he might lose this fight.’ But he started digging back. He started coming back and grinding it out, started hitting this guy. He started getting his shots in and eventually getting the fight stopped in the third round.
“My point is, he could have easily gave up, but he said, ‘No, no, no, this is my fight.’ That was a tough guy that first fight. Then he fought Ryan Bader, and it was a first-round KO. Now he’s going to fight a tough, tough, tough champion.
“When I think about both those guys, that’s No. 1 and 2 in the world right there, in my opinion. Look at their accomplishments and their records and who they beat, and basically who’s been out there in the past year. I clearly think that’s No. 1 and 2.”