Former Bellator MMA welterweight champion Andrey Koreshkov has flown the promotion’s flag since 2012, having compiled a 13-4 record across 17 appearance. His most recent outing on Oct. 4 resulted in a contentious split decision loss to Lorenz Larkin at Bellator 229—a fight that saw both men hit the deck and each of them apply their strengths in an attempt to tear one another apart.
“I think this fight should’ve been scored a draw, not the way that it was,” Koreshkov said. “It’s a shame that in the U.S. you can’t appeal the judges’ decisions. My team would definitely challenge it if we could.”
In this exclusive interview with Sherdog.com, Koreshkov discusses his relationship with longtime coach Alexander Shlemenko, his time as a Bellator cornerstone and the possibility of an early retirement.
Sherdog.com: Many fighters are motivated by the idea of winning championships in multiple weight classes. Have you considered moving to another division to pursue such an accomplishment?
Koreshkov: I’m not a big fighter for 170 pounds, as my walkaround weight usually sits between 187 and 192 pounds. If you look at UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, his normal weight is much more than 200 pounds. This is common for MMA in the United States. Guys who normally weigh 200 pounds don’t even want to fight at 185 but instead cut to 170. Those who fight in the middleweight division typically weigh more than 220 pounds when they are not training for a fight. Michael Bisping, who I sparred with on occasion, weighed 230 pounds when he wasn’t fighting and competed as a middleweight. In Russia, these kinds of crazy weight cuts are shocking to us. Take Yoel Romero as another example. He was a world champion and Olympic silver medalist in freestyle wrestling. He is big for 205 pounds. At 185 pounds, he is huge. Look at Paulo Henrique Costa, who recently defeated Romero. He’s also a huge guy. It’s not without reason that the California Athletic Commission banned him from competing in the middleweight division because he exceeded the permissible weight gain after weighing in on the day of the event. Nutritionists I’ve consulted with have advised me not to cut to 155 pounds. I’m too tall for the division, and my shoulders are too broad. After such a harsh weight cut, there’s no guarantee I’d be able to show everything I can do.
Sherdog.com: Can you talk about Shlemenko not being allowed in the cage and having to buy tickets to the VIP section to coach you in your title fight against Benson Henderson in 2016?
Koreshkov: It was a very ugly story. In March 2015, the California State Athletic Commission stated that Shlemenko allegedly failed a doping test. He sued the commission, and the courts reduced his suspension from three years to nine months and his fine from $10,000 to $5,000. For one reason or another, the commission then refused to allow Alexander to corner my title fight with Henderson, even though he had a seconds license. The head of the commission forbade him from even approaching the cage, so he could not give me advice. Shlemenko and I prepared for the bout carefully, and I understood his gestures, so the commission’s decision did not affect me a lot.
Sherdog.com: You have been in Bellator for seven years. Have you received offers from other promotions like the Ultimate Fighting Championship and the Professional Fighters League during that time?
Koreshkov: No, it just so happened that after starting my career in Bellator in 2012, I won the grand prix and my contract was automatically renewed. Then I took part in the next two grand prix [tournaments] and won the Bellator belt. Therefore, my contract was automatically renewed several times, almost without my involvement. The only exception was in 2018, when signed a contract with Bellator for five fights on very good terms, I think. In addition, there was $1 million that was supposed to go to the winner of the latest grand prix. It was worth it to fight for such a big prize, because in previous years, tournament winners used to get 10 times less. It just so happened that I lost in the first round to Douglas Lima, who eventually won the grand prix. I have already fulfilled three of my five fights under my current contract. All I want right now is to return to the cage as soon as possible. It would be ideal for me to fight in February, so I do not have to sit for a long time.
Sherdog.com: Considering all you have accomplished in Bellator, do you have any thoughts about moving to other promotions or about retiring at a young age?
Koreshkov: I have not considered retiring. I’m only 29 years old, and a lot of fighters who are over 40 have had success. Take, for example, Yoel Romero, who I’ve spoken about. It’s too early for me to retire. In addition, I would like to win as many championships as possible. That’s why, yes, I’m increasingly thinking about moving to other promotions.
Sherdog.com: Have you, like most fighters, dreamed about competing in the UFC?
Koreshkov: I’ve never dreamed of it, although it would be interesting for me to fight with many guys from the UFC welterweight division. Bellator is by no means worse than the UFC, which is why many top UFC fighters moved to Bellator: Benson Henderson, Rory MacDonald, Gegard Mousasi and Lorenz Larkin, who was No. 6 in the UFC rankings and left the organization after a brilliant victory over Neil Magny. Remember, Magny has defeated first-class fighters like Kelvin Gastelum and Hector Lombard. There are also examples of UFC veterans losing their first fights in Bellator. I beat Benson Henderson, and Lorenz Larkin and Rory MacDonald lost to Douglas Lima. After the next two fights, my contract with Bellator will be completed. I’ll wait from offers from other promotions and choose the one that is most lucrative. I definitely won’t go to the UFC on bad terms. Of course, fame is important for any fighter, but you can’t put too much importance on it.
Sherdog.com: You have faced Lima three times for the Bellator welterweight championship, going 1-2 in those fights. Is there any hostility between you two?
Koreshkov: On the contrary, I respect Douglas Lima very much, because he never said any bad words about me to journalists, despite the tradition of trash talking that is widespread in the United States. It is considered normal there when fighters smear each other and arrange skirmishes at press conferences, then calmly shake hands and even hug in a friendly manner after the bout. Athletes from my region are always surprised by this behavior. This is simply impossible for them, because they have been taught since childhood to respect any opponent. However, if any of the fighters do not show such respect, sooner or later, they will answer for it. Friendship with these people is definitely impossible. We cannot understand how you can smile in a friendly manner at someone who, for several months before the fight, smeared you with tons of mud. Therefore, I do not blame Khabib Nurmagomedov for his actions after his victory over Conor McGregor.
Sherdog.com: Would you have done the same if you had been in Nurmagomedov’s shoes?
Koreshkov: I do not want to make any promises, but maybe I would. After all, McGregor crossed the permissible limits of trash talking and behaved simply disgustingly—and not only with Khabib. Look how McGregor spoke to Dustin Poirier, Eddie Alvarez and Jose Aldo before fights with them. Even so, his words didn’t stop these guys from shaking his hand after the fight and having friendly conversations with him. This attitude is completely incomprehensible to me. If I were them, I would do everything like Khabib. Fortunately, there have been no fighters during my career who behaved like McGregor.
Sherdog.com: What is the difference between training in Russia and in the USA?
Koreshkov: There are practically no differences, so I personally feel more comfortable preparing at home in Russia. I come to the United States two weeks before the fight to get acclimated. There is one difference. In the United States, top fighters from various frontline promotions can be your sparring partners. This is more difficult to pull off in Russia, though my situation is better than most. I get to spar regularly with Alexander Shlemenko. In my hometown, I spar with Aleksander Podmarev and Alexander Sarnavskiy, who are very high-level fighters.
Sherdog.com: You said in a past interview that only a few fighters in Russia—Fedor Emelianenko, for example—are paid well. Is this still true?
Koreshkov: I said it seven years ago, and since then, the situation has changed a lot. Many fighters now make good money in Russia, where prizes of tens of thousands of dollars for top fighters are quite real. If you have competed in global promotions, you can earn similar numbers to what you make overseas. There are many examples, but you have to understand that it has to do with the individual fighter. If he has a good manager and many followers on Instagram, he finds great opportunities, both in Russia and abroad.
Sherdog.com: How did you get your nickname?
Koreshkov: Since childhood, everyone called me Koresh. Shlemenko still calls me this. I grew up with that nickname and fought my first fights using it. When the possibility of fighting in Bellator was on the horizon, my manager told me I should choose a second nickname that was more understandable for a Western audience. Around that time, the famous movie “300” was on, and I was very much in tune with it, so I became “Spartan.” Ever since then, I have been trying to prove to fans that I’m worthy of the nickname.