Dazn is the exclusive streaming partner of Bellator MMA. You can sign up here and live stream 100+ fight nights a year.
Anonymity did not suit Vadim Nemkov.
In a true breakthrough performance, the Fedor Emelianenko protégé brought down Ryan Bader with a second-round head kick and follow-up punches to capture the Bellator MMA light heavyweight championship in the Bellator 244 headliner on Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Bader bowed out 3:02 into Round 2, his 1,154-day reign atop the 205-pound weight class at an end.
Speed was the primary differentiator. Nemkov spent much of the first round establishing a foothold, as he knocked the champion off-balance more than once with power punches and negated his only takedown with an active guard. He stunned Bader with a sharp right hand in the second round, gathered himself after an eye poke resulted in a brief respite and floored “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8 winner with the kick. Referee Kerry Hatley provided Bader with every opportunity to recover, but he could not withstand the barrage that followed.
In the aftermath of Bellator 244 “Bader vs. Nemkov,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Vadim Nemkov vs. Phil Davis-Lyoto Machida winner: Nemkov now becomes the hunted in one of Bellator’s glamour divisions. A four-time World Sambo Championships gold medalist, the 28-year-old Russian improved to 12-2 with his upset of Bader and extended his run of consecutive victories to seven. Nemkov owns a perfect 5-0 record in Bellator, with four of those five wins coming by knockout, technical knockout or submission. In short, he has arrived. Davis—who lost a close split decision to Nemkov in November 2018—will rematch Machida in the Bellator 245 main event on Sept. 11, as he attempts to move to 2-0 in his head-to-head series with “The Dragon.”
Julia Budd vs. Cat Zingano-Gabrielle Holloway winner: Budd began the process of distancing herself from a January loss to Cristiane Justino, as the former women’s featherweight champion cruised to a unanimous decision over Jessy Miele in the three-round co-headliner. All three judges scored it for the Canadian: 30-26, 30-27 and 30-27. Budd appeared tentative at times in their standup exchanges, but she made it a grind with takedowns, top control and ground-and-pound, winning for the 12th time in 13 outings. Zingano will make her promotional debut at Bellator 245, where she faces the returning Holloway—a woman who has never been finished in 11 professional bouts.
Valentin Moldavsky vs. Timothy Johnson: While his latest performance was far from aesthetically pleasing, Moldavsky steered clear of danger against a shopworn Roy Nelson and laid claim to a unanimous decision in their heavyweight showcase. The 28-year-old Ukraine native swept the scorecards with 30-27s across the board. Moldavsky shut down Nelson’s one-dimensional offense, trapped him along the fence repeatedly and piled up points with knees to the body and short punches upstairs. He has rattled off five straight wins since his contentious decision loss to Amir Aliakbari in the 2016 Rizin Fighting Federation Openweight Grand Prix semifinals. Johnson last competed at Bellator 243 on Aug. 7, when he put away Matt Mitrione with punches in a little more than three minutes.
John Salter vs. Anatoly Tokov: Salter continued to establish himself as one of Bellator’s most consistent middleweights, as the longtime Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt submitted Andrew Kapel with a mounted arm-triangle choke in the third round of their confrontation at 185 pounds. Kapel capitulated 3:11 into Round 3. Salter, 35, has won 10 of his last 11 fights, a September 2018 loss to the unbeaten and now-retired Rafael Lovato Jr. his only misstep. While he may never rise to the top of a division that includes Gegard Mousasi, the Alabama native can certainly serve as a litmus test for blue-chip prospects and resurgent veterans rising through the ranks. Tokov improved to 29-2 in October, when he dispatched Hracho Darpinyan with elbows in the second round of their Bellator 229 pairing.