Vitaly Minakov has finished his last 10 opponents. | Photo: Keith Mills/Sherdog.com
Bellator MMA returns to Spike TV on Friday with a heavyweight title main event.
Vitaly Minakov will put his championship on the line to close out Bellator 115, which takes place at the Reno Events Center in Reno, Nev. Bellator’s debut in the Silver State also marks Minakov’s first defense of his heavyweight belt -- a crown he snatched from countryman Alexander Volkov in November.
While Minakov’s name will likely fail to attract any new or casual fans, the Russian’s abilities should not be questioned. The undefeated heavyweight is a four-time world champion in sambo and has scored 12 of his 13 MMA victories by either knockout or submission. Minakov has yet to go the distance in his four-fight Bellator career and has shown the ability to both finish opponents quickly and tread into deeper waters when he must, as he did in his third-round knockout of Ryan Martinez in the 2013 Summer Series final. Now, the 29-year-old will lock horns with Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Cheick Kongo, who rides back-to-back victories into his title shot. I, for one, am interested to see if Minakov can either catch Kongo standing or drag the massive Frenchman to the mat to exploit him off his back.
Minakov’s first title defense is but one reason to tune in. Here is what else to watch for at Bellator 115:
Kongo stands just a victory away from claiming the Bellator heavyweight title, and I think the Frenchman has a good shot at hoisting the gold to close the show.
Since joining Bellator, Kongo has done a fine job of pacing himself and picking his shots while managing to avoid the type of drawn-out clinch-fests that resulted from his UFC meetings with Matt Mitrione and Shawn Jordan. Kongo has used his physical tools aptly. He is, after all, a monster compared to the majority of Bellator’s heavyweight roster. While the division is no doubt growing both in terms of size and quality, Kongo is -- for the time being, anyway -- near the top of the list in both categories when compared to most of his peers.
With that said, Kongo’s career is likely winding down, and it is unclear how many more years he will be able to compete at a high level. Certain fighters in this sport have competed successfully into their 40s, but that is a short list of exceptional guys. At 38, this might be Kongo’s last and only chance to win a world title.
Andrey Koreshkov’s Bellator future got a whole lot brighter with the departure of Ben Askren.
This is true, of course, for every other Bellator welterweight, but Koreshkov is of particular interest because I think he has the ability to ruin anybody in the division with his striking. Douglas Lima and Rick Hawn are both clearly worthy of contending for the vacant title, but would you count out Koreshkov in a fight with either one of them? I most certainly would not.
With a 41-second knockout of UFC veteran Nah-Shon Burrell, “Spartan” rebounded from the walloping he took from Askren. However, such a finish really does not tell us all that much about the issues that plagued him against “Funky” -- namely, his wrestling defense and endurance. While Koreshkov must no longer worry about facing a fighter anyone even remotely as good as Askren in the wrestling department, I am nevertheless concerned that someone -- perhaps Hawn or Lima -- might close the gap and put Koreshkov on his back in a similar manner.
I do not know if Sam Oropeza is the man for the job, but he was definitely impressive in his quarterfinal appearance, hunting down Cristiano Souza with a violent right hand and then putting him away with some nasty ground-and-pound. I think fans are in store for quite the exciting result in this one. It is not to be missed.
Bellator 115 will also feature a pair of interesting middleweight matchups, one of which will decide the second Season 10 finalist when the unorthodox Jeremy Kimball takes on UFC alum Dan Cramer.
Cramer has fought the better competition of the two, though both fighters will step into this four-man draw on the heels of defeat. While “Cosmo” was turned away by current finalist Brett Cooper in the Season 8 bracket, Kimball saw his Season 9 tournament hopes dashed by Perry Filkins in a submission loss in September.
Just prior to Cramer’s clash with Kimball, Season 9 finalist Mikkel Parlo will try to rebound from his loss to Brennan Ward against King of the Cage vet Johnny Cisneros. Still just 23 years old, Parlo is an aggressive talent who should have a bright future with the Viacom-owned organization, provided he continues to improve.
I would not be surprised if a victory earned the Dane a spot in Bellator’s next middleweight draw. Can Parlo get the job done?