In December, reigning Bellator middleweight champion Rafael Carvalho will put his belt on the line against UFC veteran Alessio Sakara in Italy.
While the winner of that bout will walk away as the promotion’s 185-pound king, Alexander Shlemenko believes his showdown with Gegard Mousasi on Friday night in the Bellator 185 headliner on Friday night will say more about the top middleweight in the California-based organization.
“First of all, I do not want to think past this fight. No disrespect to Carvalho or Sakara, but I think the winner of my fight against Mousasi is the true Bellator champion,” Shlemenko said on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show. “No disrespect to other guys but I think this fight is more important.”
Mousasi signed with Bellator after winning five consecutive fights in the UFC, earning victories over the likes of Chris Weidman, Uriah Hall, Vitor Belfort and Thales Leites. Should he get past Mousasi, Shlemenko believes he should be considered as one of the top middleweights in the sport — regardless of affiliation.
“I hope so. But it’s difficult for me to say because I do not have a clear understanding of how all those rankings are made,” Shlemenko said. “Sometimes when I look at them I disagree with the positions that a lot of the fighters have. I really hope that by beating him I will become a Top 3 middleweight in the world.”
While Mousasi carved out a spot near the top of the UFC’s 185-pound weight class, he previously had success at light heavyweight, as well. “The Dreamcatcher” was the former Strikeforce 205-pound titlist, and Shlemenko recognizes that his opponent will have a size advantage come fight night. The Russian has fought larger foes before, notably losing to Tito Ortiz via first-round submission at Bellator 120.
“Of course he is a really large middleweight and of course I think I will have difficulties with that. But I’m a professional fighters and I train for that,” he said. “I prepare for that. It won’t be a huge problem for me. Speaking of my fight against Tito Ortiz….it was not because of the size difference. There were some other issues with myself that caused me that loss.”
Shlemenko vs. Mousasi is the type of fight that could work well as a five-round main event. But since Bellator implements five rounds for title fights exclusively, it will only be three. Shlemenko thinks he could finish Mousasi over the course of 25 minutes, but in a three-round contest a decision is more likely.
“I wanted this fight to be a five-round fight because in a five-round fight I think I would have a definite advantage,” Shlemenko said. “I really want a finish in this fight. But I think this fight will go to the judges’ decision, and take all three rounds.”
That said, the goal for Shlemenko, who is unbeaten in his last seven fights, remains the same.
“My strategy doesn’t change because I will try my best to finish him,” he said. “I never care about points. I will try to finish.”