Where once there were eight, now only two remain in Bellator MMA’s light heavyweight grand prix.
Though the withdrawals of Yoel Romero and Anthony Johnson were undoubtedly disappointing, the bracket still produced arguably the best possible matchup from the field, with Vadim Nemkov and Corey Anderson scoring emphatic victories in their respective semifinal bouts at Bellator 268 at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Ariz., on Saturday night. It was the rare weekend in which the California-based promotion stole the spotlight from the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and for good reason. Bellator 268 offered plenty of intrigue throughout, so here are a few matches that should be made in the aftermath of Saturday’s event.
Vadim Nemkov vs. Corey Anderson: The biggest no-brainer from Saturday’s card is also the best light heavyweight bout Bellator can currently put together. Both Nemkov and Anderson were extremely impressive in earning semifinal victories at Bellator 268, setting the stage for an epic 205-grand prix final sometime in 2022. Both fighters are at the top of their respective games: Nemkov has won nine fights in a row, while Anderson has been victorious in seven of his last eight appearances. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed that the matchup stays together.
Ryan Bader vs. Valentin Moldavsky: It may be time to finally acknowledge that Bader should make the heavyweight division his home for the remainder of his MMA career. A 51-second technical knockout loss to Anderson in the Bellator 268 co-main event dashed Bader’s hopes of reclaiming the 205-pound throne, and it’s difficult to see him unseating either Anderson or Vadim Nemkov in rematches down the road. The Power MMA Team product captured the heavyweight belt by winning the promotion’s grand prix but hasn’t defended the crown since September 2019. Moldavsky, meanwhile, defeated Timothy Johnson to capture the interim belt at Bellator 261. A heavyweight championship unification bout makes sense, and it gives Bader a chance to claim a measure of revenge against another Fedorteam fighter after falling to Nemkov.
Brent Primus vs. Peter Queally-Patricky Freire winner: Primus secured a signature triumph on Saturday night, as he outgrappled former UFC champ Benson Henderson en route to a unanimous decision victory in a featured bout at Bellator 268. While Primus may have initially claimed lightweight gold with something of a fluke victory over Michael Chandler at Bellator 180, the division is more wide open than ever following Patricio Freire’s decision to vacate the belt. Primus has won three of four since relinquishing the title to Chandler in a rematch. Queally and Patricky Freire will square off for the vacant crown at Bellator 270 on Nov. 5. Primus called for the winner in his post-fight interview, and we say give the man what he wants.
Henry Corrales vs. Enrique Barzola: Corrales dictated the terms of engagement in his matchup with Vladyslav Parubchenko at Bellator 268, keeping the fight upright and picking his spots to land big punches in a unanimous decision triumph. The return to featherweight paid dividends for the Fight Ready representative, who suffered a massive upset loss in a move to 135 pounds this past May. Corrales has never shied away from tough competition, so it seems ideal for “OK” to welcome “The Ultimate Fighter 2: Latin America” winner and 10-time UFC veteran Barzola to the California-based promotion.
Karl Albrektsson vs. Lyoto Machida: Albrektsson came out on top in a “Fight of the Night” worthy clash against Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov in a light heavyweight affair. The Swede is no stranger to big-name opposition, with bouts against the likes of Nemkov, Jiri Prochazka and Phil Davis to his credit. The Pancrase Gym Sweden standout had enough of a struggle on his hands against Yagshimuradov to indicate that he needs another opportunity to prove himself before any serious title discussion can begin. Machida, with recent split decision losses against Davis and Gegard Mousasi on his ledger, remains a difficult puzzle to solve even at 43 years old. If Albrektsson can avoid getting frustrated against “The Dragon,” he’ll be ready to take a serious step toward contention.
Mukhamed Berkhamov vs. Andrey Koreshkov: After a two-year layoff, Berkhamov showed he is ready to be a contender in Bellator’s 170-pound division, as he submitted ex-Legacy Fighting Alliance champion Jaleel Willis with a guillotine in the opening round of their preliminary clash. Unbeaten in 14 professional outings with an Absolute Championship Berkut belt in his trophy case, Berkhamov isn’t the typical promotional newcomer. Koreshkov, meanwhile, will be looking for an opponent after a proposed matchup with Rustam Khabilov at Bellator 269 fell through. The former Bellator kingpin will be an appropriate test to see if Berkhamov is ready for the upper echelon at welterweight, and the Russia vs. Russia angle only adds to the intrigue.