Alexander Shlemenko will return to the Bellator MMA cage for the first time in more than a year when he meets Kendal Grove in the Bellator 162 headliner on Friday at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee. Much has changed in the life and career of the former Bellator middleweight champion, who sounds ready to pick up where he left off 20 months ago.
Shlemenko electrified the MMA world with a spinning back fist knockout on Melvin Manhoef at Bellator 133 and seemed to be in line for a chance to reclaim the promotion’s middleweight title. However, his pursuits were put on hold when post-fight urine samples revealed elevated levels of testosterone. The California State Athletic Commission suspended him for three years -- the suspension was later reduced -- and hit the Russian with a $10,000 fine. Shlemenko has since posted back-to-back wins over Vyacheslav Vasilevsky under the M-1 Global banner.
“After I knocked out Manhoef, I had to sit and wait for my hearing because of what happened,” Shlemenko told Sherdog.com. “Every time I was scheduled to go to my hearing, it was getting pushed back, but I’m very glad all this is behind me now; and I am a very exciting fighter. I look forward to getting back in the Bellator cage to put on a great fight for the fans, something that they will remember.”
Shlemenko has tested himself against a number of accomplished foes, including former Bellator champion Hector Lombard, Ultimate Fighting Championship hall of famer Tito Ortiz and onetime Strikeforce titleholder Ronaldo Souza. However, Grove presents challenges all his own, as the 6-foot-6 Hawaiian will have significant height and reach advantages.
“He’s a very tough fighter,” Shlemenko said. “He’s got a lot of experience, he’s the winner of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ and he’s very tall. He’s got pretty good boxing and he’s very good on the ground with submissions, so that is something I am looking for; but I think the most difficult thing about him is that he is very unorthodox, so it’s hard to [replicate] that in the gym.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find anybody who has that much height [to train with] regularly,” he added. “So in my preparation, I used my students and some of my taller sparring partners, but none of them were as tall as Kendall. However, I was able to spar quite a bit with Alexander Volkov, who is very tall, so I think that will help me against Kendall. Only Volkov doesn’t fight like Kendall.”
Shlemenko expects “The Ultimate Fighter 3” winner to try to limit the standup exchanges between the two. Grove holds the rank of black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and has delivered 10 of his 23 professional victories by submission.
“I think he is going to try and take me down to the ground,” Shlemenko said. “I am game planning for him to do that, to try and submit me. I don’t think he’ll opt to trade with me on the feet. I can’t say that I spent any more time specifically on my ground game for this fight because of what Kendall does, though, because I always do spend quite a bit of time focusing on my ground game. I’m quite confident in that [aspect] of this fight.”
Shlemenko wants to reclaim the Bellator middleweight crown. He held the 185-pound title from Feb. 7, 2013 to Sept. 26, 2014, when Brandon Halsey choked him unconscious at Bellator 126. The 35-second defeat still haunts Shlemenko.
“It was very difficult for me because I lost my title in such a manner,” he said. “I never thought I would ever lose my title like that. I couldn’t imagine that and it was very difficult for me to get over that, but I am so glad I am back in Bellator because I have a chance to redeem myself and prove to everybody that I am still a champion. I was given an opportunity to come back, and I am grateful for that. It is something I will not let slip away.”
Shlemenko has focused his energy on Grove, not on current middleweight champion Rafael Carvalho. The Russian believes his time will come.
“I don’t know if they will give me a title shot, and I have not even thought about it yet,” Shlemenko said. “I just know one thing, that I am ready to fight once every two months. I want Bellator to give me as many fights as possible so I can prove myself and continue to build upon what I’ve started. I want to make the most of this second chance I was given, and I need to first defeat Kendall before I can even think about getting my belt back.”