Vadim Nemkov wears the target well.
The decorated sambo stylist will defend his 205-pound championship against Julius Anglickas when their Bellator MMA light heavyweight grand prix semifinal shoulders the Bellator 268 marquee on Saturday at the Footprint Center in Phoenix. Nemkov enters the cage on the strength of a personal-best eight-fight winning streak. The 29-year-old Belogrod, Russia, native owns a perfect 6-0 record under the Bellator flag, having delivered four of his six victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission.
As Nemkov makes final preparations for his latest title defense, a look at a few of the rivalries that have helped shape his career to this point:
Nemkov retained his undisputed 205-pound title and advanced to the semifinals of the Bellator MMA light heavyweight grand prix with a unanimous decision over “Mr. Wonderful” in the Bellator 257 headliner on April 16, 2021 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. All three judges scored it the same: 48-47 for the Fedor Emelianenko protege, who improved to 2-0 in his head-to-head series with Davis. The four-time NCAA All-American wrestler struggled to get in gear, and the slow start did him no favors. Nemkov—who eked out a split decision over the Alliance MMA mainstay in their first encounter in November 2018—built a commanding lead on the strength of a crisp jab, well-timed punching combinations and occasional kicks to the lower leg. Even so, Davis had his moments. He cut the Russian near his left eye with an overhand right in the second round and enjoyed some success in the clinch, but he failed to give the champion true pause and instead watched his opportunity to reclaim the light heavyweight crown slip through his fingers.
Nemkov cut down “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8 winner with a head kick and follow-up punches in the second round of their Bellator 244 main event on Aug. 21, 2020 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, where he became the seventh light heavyweight champion in company history. Bader succumbed to blows 3:02 into Round 2, suffering his first setback in nearly four years. Nemkov conceded a takedown in the first round but was responsible for virtually all of the meaningful offense. He stung Bader with a straight right hand in Round 2, reset after an inadvertent eye poke paused the action and floored the two-time NCAA All-American wrestler with a perfectly placed high kick. Nemkov chased the fallen champion to the floor, showered him with punches and allowed him to stand before one final left hand forced referee Kerry Hatley to act.
Nemkov’s return to the light heavyweight division did not go according to plan, as he wound up on the wrong side of a split decision against the undefeated Swede in the Rizin Fighting Federation 1 co-feature on April 17, 2016 at Nippon Gaishi Hall in Nagoya, Japan. Two of the three ringside judges—Hidenobu Koike and Motoki Yoshida—saw it for Albrektsson, while Yoshitaro Nimi sided with Nemkov. Albrektsson leaned on his high pace and underrated wrestling skills in the early stages of the match, then connected with more impactful strikes and made his way to advantageous positions across the final two rounds. Having now emerged as one of the world’s premier light heavyweights, Nemkov has not lost in the more than 2,000 days that have passed since.
It was a one-round war of attrition. Prochazka emerged as the last man standing in the semifinals of the Rizin Fighting Federation heavyweight grand prix, as he was awarded a technical knockout over Nemkov in between the first and second rounds of their “Iza no Mai” pairing on Dec. 31, 2015 at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. The two men took turns leading the dance, as Prochazka flexed his superiority in the standup exchanges and Nemkov answered with takedowns, positional control, ground-and-pound and repeated submission attempts. However, the future Bellator MMA champion paid a steep price for the gains he made. Nemkov suffered significant damage to his left eye and exhausted himself to such a degree that it became evident he had crossed the point of no return. When the bell sounded to conclude Round 1, the Fedor Emelianenko disciple remained on the canvas, indicated he could not reach his corner under his own power and conceded defeat.