It was not the Final Four most expected heading into the Bellator MMA light heavyweight grand prix, but here we are with a pair of intriguing matchups set for Bellator 268 on Saturday at the Footprint Center in Phoenix. Reigning champion Vadim Nemkov squares off against short-notice replacement Julius Anglickas in one half of the bracket, while hometown favorite and ex-titleholder Ryan Bader locks horns with fellow Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Corey Anderson in the other half. The winners will meet at a date to be determined. Before we go any further, let us wish Anthony Johnson—who was supposed to face Nemkov on this card—a speedy recovery to full health.
Now to the preview for the key bouts at Bellator 268:
Light Heavyweight Grand Prix SemifinalVadim Nemkov (13-2, 6-0 Bellator) vs. Julius Anglickas (10-1, 3-0 Bellator)
ODDS: Nemkov (-435), Anglickas (+330)
The opportunity of a lifetime arrives for Anglickas, as he steps into the biggest spotlight of his career against one of the top light heavyweights in the world for a chance to not only capture championship gold, but to advance to the finals of the Bellator 205-pound grand prix. It’s pretty heady stuff for the St. Charles MMA representative, who thus far has been relegated to the prelims in earning victories over Jordan Young, Alex Polizzi and Gregory Millard within the California-based promotion. Anglickas does have some championship experience, as he captured the vacant Legacy Fighting Alliance light heavyweight belt with a submission of Clayton York in February 2019.
For Nemkov, the matchup certainly isn’t as sexy as was a potential semifinal pairing with former UFC title challenger Anthony Johnson, but while Anglickas doesn’t possess “Rumble’s” otherworldly knockout power — and few do — he is fundamentally sound in a number of areas. At 6-foot-3 with a 77-inch reach, Anglickas is taller and slightly longer than the reigning champion. The Lithuanian fighter is a powerfully built former Golden Gloves boxer with a collegiate wrestling background at SUNY Brockport and Missouri Baptist University and a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Anglickas is a fairly conservative striker who works primarily behind one-two combinations, often relying on his size and reach. He can outmuscle opponents in the clinch while landing solid knees in close quarters and he will shoot for takedowns after driving his opposition into the cage. Once on the mat, he looks to advance position and is fairly adept at securing the rear-naked choke.
Nemkov represents a significant step up in competition for Anglickas. The Fedor Emelianenko protege won’t be overwhelmed in the size and strength department, and he is a far quicker and more dangerous opponent than what Anglickas is accustomed to facing. The former sambo world champion has already demonstrated he can fare well against far a more more accomplished wrestler than Anglickas, which he proved in going 2-0 against former NCAA Division I national champion Phil Davis. If Nemkov is taken down, he is effective at being active with his guard, shifting his hips and looking to sweep, submit or create space. On the feet, Nemkov comes equipped with a crisp jab and will throw punches in combination, but what really sets him apart from Anglickas is his dynamic kicking game. The champion throws kicks to the legs, body and head and does well disguising his high kicks behind punches. Perhaps most importantly, Nemkov has displayed a good fight IQ and finishing instinct—see his title-winning performance against Bader for tips on how to finish off a reeling adversary.
Anglickas has a conservative, intelligent style that may allow him to hang around against Nemkov for at least a few rounds. However, his muscular frame also lends itself to fatigue, and he could find himself wearing down if he can’t overpower Nemkov on takedowns and in the clinch. On the feet, Anglickas isn’t the type of dynamic finisher that can give Nemkov pause, and he could find himself on shaky ground as the Russian chops away at his legs before going headhunting upstairs. The best may very well be yet to come for Anglickas, but Bellator 268 won’t be his coming-out party.
THE PICK: Nemkov by fourth-round KO/TKO.
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