Alexander Shlemenko plans to reclaim the Bellator MMA middleweight title. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Make no mistake: Alexander Shlemenko is excited about his main-event showdown with Melvin Manhoef at Bellator 133.
Not only is it a fight for the fans, it’s also a matchup for the fighters, an opportunity for two striking specialists to do what they do best, largely uninhibited by the threat of an impending takedown.
“The first time I saw Melvin Manhoef, it was many years ago when I was only starting my professional career, and I started fighting in K-1,” Shlemenko this week told Sherdog.com. “I never thought there would be a day when I would be able to fight him. That’s why it makes me very happy that I can test myself against such a strong, explosive knockout puncher as Melvin, and I can match my striking style against his.”
That’s all well and good, but Shlemenko-Manhoef could have had even more than bragging rights at stake. When Manhoef knocked out Doug Marshall in September, he was expected to receive a middleweight title shot against the winner of Shlemenko-Brandon Halsey.
However, Manhoef was brutally finished by Joe Schilling in his next outing, and Halsey submitted Shlemenko in a tidy 35 seconds to capture the promotion’s 185-pound strap. Now the two hard-hitting middleweights are both looking for a signature win to get back on track.
In the long run, Shlemenko wants to not only regain 185-pound gold, but to do it against the man who took it from him.
“That’s my No. 1 priority, my No. 1 goal right now. But most importantly, I want to get my belt back from Brandon Halsey,” Shlemenko said. “I want to show everybody, including myself, that night just wasn’t my night. I know that I made a mistake, but I want to show everybody who is the strongest fighter. I want to take my belt back from Brandon Halsey.”
Halsey currently does not have a title defense scheduled, and it is unclear where the Shlemenko-Manhoef winner will fit into the championship picture. The loss once again exposed the Shlemenko’s weakness against wrestlers; he was favored but tapped out to an arm-triangle choke one bout prior against Tito Ortiz at Bellator 120.
“I’ve been working in this direction right now,” he said. “I know that by the time I face Brandon Halsey again I will be 100 percent ready to face any kind of wrestler in the cage.”
In the meantime, Shlemenko returned to his native Russia to garner a much-needed win in December, as he outpointed Yasubey Enomoto at Fight Nights “Battle of Moscow 18.” It was an important triumph, both physically and mentally.
“Right after my loss to Brandon I started to evaluate everything that I do, all the things I did wrong. And I started to correct them,” he said. “That fight was a very good indicator for myself to see that I’m on the right path, that I’m moving in the right direction. I wanted to get back in the cage as soon as possible.”
For now, “Storm” will focus on an opponent capable of ending his night at a moment’s notice. Between them, Shlemenko and Manhoef have a combined 56 victories via knockout or technical knockout.
While he says it is somewhat difficult to quantify, Shlemenko names Marshall and Hector Lombard as the hardest hitting foes he has faced during his Bellator tenure. The ex-titlist does not know exactly how the fight with Manhoef will play out, but he does believe the stylistic matchup makes for a lot of enticing opportunities on the feet.
“It’s open to more for me to showcase my striking skills, not being afraid of being taken down on the ground,” he said. “I would be able to use my kicks more, my knee strikes more. It just opens more different [options] for me to utilize in this fight.”