Alexander Shlemenko has begun the arduous process of trying to rebuild his reputation following a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs.
The former Bellator MMA middleweight champion will meet “The Ultimate Fighter 3” winner Kendall Grove in the Bellator 162 main event on Friday at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee. It will mark Shlemenko’s first appearance inside the Bellator cage in more than 20 months.
Shlemenko was suspended for three years by the California State Athletic Commission after he failed a post-fight drug screen in wake of his second-round technical knockout against Melvin Manhoef on Feb. 13, 2015. The suspension was later reduced to one year, and the 32-year-old Russian has since fought twice under the M-1 Global banner. “Storm” last competed at M-1 Challenge 68 on June 16, when he submitted Vyacheslav Vasilevsky with a guillotine choke. A devastating and well-rounded finisher, Shlemenko has secured 35 of his 53 career victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission.
Grove has gone 11-6 since parting ways with the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2011 and will enter the cage on a modest two-fight winning streak. He last appeared at Bellator 150 on Feb. 26, when he knocked out Francisco France in the second round of their confrontation in Mulvane, Kansas. Wins over Ed Herman, Alan Belcher, Evan Tanner, Goran Reljic, Joe Riggs and Derek Brunson buoy Grove’s resume.
With the Shlemenko-Grove battle as the centerpiece, here is what to watch for at Bellator 162:
The Bellator heavyweight throne sits empty in wake of Vitaly Minakov’s contract dispute, and Bobby Lashley wants the opportunity to fill it.
The former World Wrestling Entertainment superstar will put his seven-fight winning streak on the line when he faces Josh Appelt in the co-main event. Lashley has not competed since he needed less than a minute to dispatch James Thompson with punches at Bellator 145 in November, the 54-second rout avenging a 2012 loss to the Pride Fighting Championships veteran. The 40-year-old wrestled collegiately at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Missouri, where he was a four-time NAIA All-American and three-time national champion. That pedigree has served Lashley well in his transition to mixed martial arts.
Appelt, 33, has posted back-to-back victories and owns a 3-1 record in Bellator. A former Gladiator Challenge champion, he has six first-round finishes to his credit.
Back on the Horse
Hiccups against Bubba Jenkins and Will Martinez notwithstanding, Goiti Yamauchi remains one of Bellator’s most promising young talents.
The 23-year-old lightweight prospect will turn his attention to Strikeforce and UFC veteran Ryan Couture in a featured attraction at 155 pounds. Yamauchi finds himself on the rebound following a unanimous decision defeat to Jenkins at Bellator 151 on March 5, the ill-timed setback coming on the heels of consecutive victories over Isao Kobayashi, Martin Stapleton and Mike Richman. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Fernandinho Vieira, he has parlayed his considerable ground skills into 15 submission wins, 11 of them via rear-naked choke. Yamauchi has never been finished in his 22-fight career.
Couture, 34, saw his four-fight winning streak grind to a halt in a brutal knockout loss to Patricky Freire at Bellator 148 in January. The Xtreme Couture rep has not fought since.
Like Father, Like Son
The warrior spirit of the world’s most famous boatyard brawler lives on.
Kevin Ferguson Jr. will make his once-delayed professional MMA debut opposite Rick Bing on the undercard. He is the 24-year-old son of the late “Kimbo Slice” -- a Miami street-fighter who rose to prominence through a series of YouTube videos and later competed in EliteXC, the UFC and Bellator. He died in June at the age of 42. The younger Ferguson operates out of the Team Bodyshop outfit in California, where he trains under former Maximum Fighting Championship titleholder Antonio McKee.
Ferguson has one amateur bout under his belt, an 83-second knockout against Tom Brink on March 12.
A 14-second knockout loss to Amanda Nunes and a 39-second submission defeat to Ronda Rousey in 2011 did nothing to diminish Julia Budd’s zest for combat.
The Canadian muay Thai stylist will carry a six-fight winning streak into her preliminary matchup with Arlene Blencowe. Budd has emerged as one of the sport’s premier women’s featherweights inside Bellator and Invicta Fighting Championships. The 33-year-old Roberts Creek, British Columbia, native last fought at Bellator 146 in November, when she took a three-round unanimous decision from Roberta Rovel at the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma.
Blencowe, 33, has spent the majority of her career competing in her native Australia. She signed with Bellator in 2015 and has gone 2-1 since, sandwiching victories over Adrienna Jenkins and Gabrielle Holloway around a submission loss to former Strikeforce champion Marloes Coenen.