Alexander Shlemenko has won 20 of his last 22 bouts. | Photo: Keith Mills
Thirteen months must seem like an eternity to Alexander Shlemenko, who, in October 2010, failed in his bid to unseat Bellator Fighting Championships middleweight titleholder Hector Lombard. Now, the 27-year-old Russian striker stands but one victory away from getting another chance.
Shlemenko (42-7, 6-1 BFC) will face Wand Fight Team representative Vitor Vianna in the Season 5 middleweight tournament finals at Bellator 57 on Saturday at the Casino Rama in Rama, Ontario, Canada. The winner earns a $100,000 paycheck and a coveted shot at Lombard’s promotional gold.
A black belt in judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the 32-year-old Lombard has made himself into one of the most feared fighters in the middleweight division. Based at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla., he has rattled off 19 consecutive wins -- many of them frightening finishes -- since his July 2007 encounter with “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 11 alum Kyle Noke ended in a draw. Lombard owns a 7-0 mark inside Bellator.
“I want to send a message to Hector Lombard with my performance in this fight,” Shlemenko said. “I’ll do everything to win the bout against Vitor and get [the] right to fight Hector again. I want to prove that this time our fight would be completely different and I would be able to knock him out. I want to show one thing in this fight with Vitor Vianna: I’m the only fighter out of this tournament who really wants to fight Hector, who’s not afraid of him and who knows how to beat him.”
Shlemenko, a two-time Bellator tournament finalist, advanced to the middleweight finals at Bellator 54 in October. There, he took out Brian Rogers with a series of second-round knee strikes.
“I planned on using the clinch going into that fight,” he said. “I have a large arsenal which I can use at any moment during the fight. I saw the spinning back fists were not landing, but I was hurting him with knees, so I started to utilize them. I’m still very surprised with the amount of punishment Brian Rogers was able to take. I bruised both of my knees on his head. He can take a punch very well. I think he has a great future in front of him.”
Vianna (12-1-1, 2-0 BFC) will be no cakewalk. A two-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion and second-degree black belt in the discipline, he serves as the head BJJ instructor at the Wand Fight Team camp in Las Vegas.
His only defeat under MMA rules came to UFC light heavyweight mainstay Thiago Silva in November 2006, when he broke his arm while blocking a kick at a Fury Fighting Championship event in Brazil.
“I think Vitor Vianna is a very good, smart fighter,” Shlemenko said. “You can expect anything from him. I think he didn’t show everything he’s capable of in his quarterfinal and semifinal bouts, maybe on purpose, but I’m sure he’ll be 110 percent ready for the finals. I want to keep the fight standing and knock him out, but I’m also ready for a ground fight if our bout [goes] there.”
The 32-year-old Vianna has won five consecutive fights, including tournament victories over Sam Alvey and Bryan Baker. His triumph over Baker was particularly impressive, as he stopped the WEC veteran on punches in less than a minute at Bellator 54. The violent finish got Shlemenko’s attention.
“Vitor made everybody, including Bryan Baker, believe that he’s not that strong and chose an ideal strategy against Bryan,” Shlemenko said, “and he got him with a great shot.”
Shlemenko, who owns 26 knockouts among his 46 career victories, has won 11 of his past 12 fights and 20 of his last 22. His list of victims includes former Cage Rage middleweight champion Zelg Galesic, Pride Fighting Championships veteran Jean-Francois Lenogue and Kings MMA representative Brett Cooper. Shlemenko expects Vianna to pursue a ground fight, though the Russian has been submitted only once in the last seven years.
“I’m sure Vitor won’t choose to fight with me standing up because he’s a very smart fighter,” Shlemenko said. “I definitely expect for him to try to take me down. I don’t have to avoid going to the ground against Vitor. I don’t really care. I’m ready to fight him on the ground. I just prefer to show a spectacular standup fight for the audience and win by knockout.”
Vianna’s connection to Brazilian legend Wanderlei Silva, a man for whom he works and with whom he trains daily, matters little to Shlemenko -- who operates out of Omsk, Russia, a city in southwestern Siberia, roughly 1,400 miles from Moscow.
“It doesn’t matter that Vitor trains with Wanderlei Silva every day,” he said. “I think my style is much better than Wanderlei’s. I’m confident that if I fought Wanderlei, I would knock him out.”