Melvin Manhoef isn’t ready to call it a career just yet, but even he admits that winning Bellator MMA gold would make for a nice cherry atop a career that has spanned 45 professional mixed martial arts bouts.
Manhoef will get that chance when he faces reigning 185-pound king Rafael Carvalho in the Bellator 155 headliner at CenturyLink Arena in Boise, Idaho, on Friday night. The evening’s main card airs on Spike TV beginning at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT, with the preliminary draw streaming on Bellator.com at approximately 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT.
“It means a lot. Also at my age, people are saying, ‘He has to stop.’ This is a very special moment. When I win this fight, it is going to be one of the most special titles because.. I’ve been through a lot. It’s going to be a real special,” Manhoef told Sherdog.com. “It’s going to make my fighting career complete I think because if I decided to stop tomorrow I stop as a champion. It would be great.”
That doesn’t mean Manhoef plans on stopping. Prior to his matchup with Hisaki Kato at Bellator 146, the 40-year-old Dutchman had suffered brutal back-to-back knockouts against Alexander Shlemenko and Joe Schilling. While the Shlemenko result was ultimately overturned to a no contest, the long-term impact on the knockout on Manhoef’s well-being remains the same.
It was a redemptive moment, then, when “No Mercy” blasted Kato -- who generated a huge buzz with his highlight reel finish of Schilling in his promotional debut -- with a left hook to win via first-round knockout last November. Earlier in the bout, Kato appeared to have Manhoef reeling and on the verge of a third straight KO defeat. In a matter of moments, Manhoef launched himself back into title contention. The same approach that cost him against Shlemenko and Schilling is also the very reason why the Bellator is quick to give Manhoef a title shot without a lengthy winning streak: Entertainment trumps all.
“The only thing that I have to do is prove them wrong and that’s what I did. I still believe in myself,” he said. “…I know that when I’m in the cage, I know what I can deliver. I know what people like to come in to watch. The fights that I have…sometimes I take risks. I take risks and that makes it very attractive and fun to watch for the fans. This is also one thing people forget. My fight style is like this and sometimes it goes my way -- a lot of times it goes my way. And sometimes it goes wrong. And when it goes wrong, you always have people who know better.”
If he wins the middleweight title on Friday, Manhoef isn’t sure how long he will continue fighting. But he also knows that putting a timetable on his career will only fuel distracting speculation. For now, the Dutchman is still going strong.
“Sometimes it’s good to stop as the champion. But how I feel now at this moment, I had such a hard camp and my body takes it. I trained three to four times a day, and it was very hard. I still made it and I feel great,” he said. “I think maybe it’s better that my body decides to stop because now I can handle it, and I still have so much joy in it.
“I want to win the title and maybe defend it two or three times. I don’t know. Because if I say I’m gonna retire everybody’s gonna keep on saying, ‘You should retire.’ Maybe I say that first we’re gonna see what happens with this fight. When I get the title, I can see how and when I’m gonna defend it. Bellator will decide how often I have to defend my title.”