Andrey Koreshkov has spent two-plus years consolidating his power atop the Bellator MMA welterweight division in wake of Ben Askren’s departure.
The once-beaten Koreshkov will defend his 170-pound championship against former titleholder Douglas Lima in the Bellator 164 main event on Thursday at Menora Mivtachim Arena in Tel Aviv, Israel. In addition to the Koreshkov-Lima rematch, Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Noad Lahat returns to his homeland to face Scott Cleve in a three-round co-headliner at 145 pounds. The rest of the four-fight main card features a featherweight clash pitting former World Series of Fighting champion Georgi Karakhanyan against Kirill Medvedovsky and a women’s flyweight encounter pairing Lena Ovchynnikova with Karla Benitez.
A two-time Bellator tournament winner, Koreshkov has rattled of six straight wins since he succumbed to fourth-round punches from Askren in 2013. The Alexander Shlemenko protégé last competed at Bellator 153 on April 22, when he routed onetime UFC and World Extreme Cagefighting champion Benson Henderson across five lopsided rounds at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Koreshkov, 26, defeated Lima by unanimous decision to capture Bellator gold a little more than a year ago.
Lima, who operates out of an American Top Team affiliate in Atlanta, rebounded from his loss to Koreshkov with a unanimous verdict over Paul Daley at Bellator 158 on July 16. The 28-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt boasts 23 finishes among his 27 career wins. Victories over former World Series of Fighting champion Steve Carl, onetime Olympian Rick Hawn and UFC vets Ben Saunders (twice), Terry Martin and Clint Hester bolster Lima’s resume.
With the Koreshkov-Lima showdown front and center, here is what to watch for at Bellator 164:
Lahat needed a fresh start.
The American Kickboxing Academy export and former Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion was a highly regarded prospect when he entered the UFC in March 2014, but two violent knockout losses to Godofredo Castro and Diego Rivas overshadowed his victories over Steven Siler and Niklas Backstrom and set him on a different path. Lahat, who holds the rank of black belt in judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, has not fought in his native Israel since he submitted Slava Antipenko with a triangle choke nearly eight years ago.
Cleve has gone 2-2 in Bellator, with wins over Isaac DeJesus and Matt Bessette offset by losses to former M-1 Global champion Daniel Weichel and “The Ultimate Fighter Brazil” Season 1 alum John Teixeira de Conceicao. He was an NCAA All-American wrestler at Adams State University -- a Division II school in Alamosa, Colorado.
Karakhanyan wants a bigger piece of the featherweight pie.
The well-traveled Millennia MMA rep snapped a two-fight losing streak at Bellator 160 on Aug. 26, when he knocked out two-time NCAA All-American Bubba Jenkins in less than a minute -- 53 seconds to be exact -- at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. Karakhanyan, 31, has not recorded back-to-back victories since he went on a nine-fight tear from April 22, 2011 to Dec. 7, 2013. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has 15 first-round finishes to his credit.
Medvedovsky has lost twice in his last three appearances, interrupting the progress he had made with a 6-0 start to his career. The 23-year-old last fought under the Absolute Championship Berkut banner on March 9, when he wound up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision against Magomed Ginazov.
Consider it a mulligan of sorts.
Ovchynnikova’s organizational debut did not go according to plan at Bellator 150 on Feb. 26, as she surrendered a unanimous decision to Rebecca Ruth. The Ukrainian kickboxer and muay Thai stylist touched off her professional MMA career with eight straight wins but has gone just 2-4 in six appearances since. Ovchynnikova has a considerable striking background upon which to lean, but the 29-year-old Union Gym standout has netted eight of her 10 career victories by submission: six by armbar, one by guillotine choke and one by rear-naked choke.
In Benitez, she faces an opponent who has tested her skills against some of the sport’s most accomplished fighters, including reigning UFC women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and the great Megumi Fujii. The 37-year-old Venezuelan last appeared at a World Fight Tour event on June 18, when she submitted to a Celine Haga arm-triangle choke in Madrid.