The Bellator light heavyweight grand prix is down to two after Vadim Nemkov and Corey Anderson advanced to the tournament finals on Saturday night.
Even with the untimely exits of names like Yoel Romero and Anthony Johnson, the bracket was filled with recognizable names, and Bellator 268 featured three light heavyweights ranked in the Top 10 of Sherdog.com's divisional poll at 205 pounds. Anderson notably owns victories against both Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeiera, who will square off for the UFC light heavyweight crown on Oct. 30.
Bellator president Scott Coker believes that the Nemkov-Anderson winner can legitmately claim the title of best light heavyweight in the sport, regardless of promotion.
“This was a gauntlet of 205ers and whoever wins this tournament, to me, is the best 205er on the planet, period. That’s how I feel,” Coker said at Saturday’s post-fight press conference.
Nemkov endured a scare in the first round before rolling past tournament alternate Julius Anglickas in the Bellator 268 main event. The reigning 205-pound champ was buckled by an Anglickas right hand early but recovered and proceeded to dominate his adversary through takedowns, ground-and-pound and a variety of submission attempts.
“When he got caught, I thought it was over,” Coker said of Nemkov. “It wasn’t just a little shot. He got caught with a big shot, and I thought, ‘Okay, this fight’s over.’ To his credit, he came back, he fought smart – when [Anglickas] got cut, I think that’s what turned the tides and he saw the ability to hurt the opponent. When you’re the champ, you step up, and that’s what he did.”
Meanwhile, Anderson made short work of ex-champ Ryan Bader in the co-main event. “Overtime” dropped his foe with an overhand right behind the ear and then swarmed with ground-and-pound until the bout was halted just 51 seconds after it began.
“It was a short fight, he (got caught, and once he got caught that was it,” Coker said of Bader. “I think that Corey timed it perfectly. It’s something I hoped we’d get to some more rounds out of the fight, but this is MMA, things happen extremely quick, fast, and explosive. I think that’s why people mixed martial arts, because it is very explosive and that’s what you saw tonight with Corey.”
If all goes as planned, Nemkov and Anderson will lock horns early next year.
“The finals that we have now really is a fight that I thought,’This could be the finals.’ I’m gonna let them heal up for a month or so,” Coker said. “I think we’re gonna start having a conversation in the next 30 days about when we’ll have the finals. I personally would love to have the finals in late January, early February…I think Nemkov needs a little bit of rest time and we’ll get it on.”