Vadim Nemkov Stifles Corey Anderson in Dominant Bellator 288 Performance

Bellator MMA now has not one but two Russians holding iron grips on its divisions.

Bellator 288 came to a head with the second attempt of the finals of Bellator’s light heavyweight tournament. A rematch seven months in the making, and the conclusion of a tourney that began on April 9, 2021, ended with a 205-pound scrap between Vadim Nemkov and Corey Anderson. Although much of their first fight took place on the ground, this battle carried on for 25 minutes exclusively on the feet. Russia’s Nemkov never slowed or wavered, and he claimed a hard-fought unanimous decision win with one score of 48-47 and two of 49-46.

The eight-man bracket commenced in 2021 with Ryan Bader, Lyoto Machida, Anderson, Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov, champ Nemkov, Phil Davis, the late Anthony Johnson and Jose Augusto Azevedo Barros. The semifinals whittled down to Bader, Anderson, Nemkov and replacement Julius Anglickas, and the initial Nemkov-Anderson finals match took place in April. The million-dollar bracket was not ready to end just yet, as an accidental clash of heads resulted in a no contest, and the pairing pushed back seven months to this fight card. While Anderson had largely dominated the first meeting until the stoppage, the Russian champion made sure history would not repeat itself.

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Nemkov (15-2, 1 NC; 8-0, 1 NC BMMA) made certain that at least in the opening minutes, the grappling successes of Anderson (16-6, 1 NC; 3-1, 1 NC BMMA) from their first meeting would not be replicated. The Russian staved off takedown efforts and kept Anderson honest on the feet, scoring with his hands and mixing in both effective and flashy kicks for good measure. With seconds to spare in the first round, a spinning wheel kick from the defending champ rang off the dome of the former UFC fighter. With Nemkov nearly firing off a soccer kick that would have been quite illegal, Anderson managed to recover and made it to the bell, and appeared no worse for wear.

The University of Wisconsin–Whitewater wrestler shot early and often to disrupt the striking rhythm of his opponent, but his efforts fell short as Nemkov’s footwork and balance kept him from getting grounded. The American Top Team-trained Nemkov showcased his fast hand speed and impressive head movement to keep Anderson guessing and largely land without absorbing counters. “Overtime” could not buy a takedown, and he began to stalk down the champion and throw bombs. Nemkov speedily retorted with blows that busted Sanderson’s right eye open, but the undaunted challenger refused to take his foot off the gas even as he continued to take damage.

The championship rounds were more of the same, as Nemkov’s jab proved the difference-maker to keep Anderson at bay. Nemkov fought off the advancing challenger with nasty leg kicks, belting the left calf of his opponent and even dropping Anderson to his knees after connecting once. Try as he might, Anderson could not secure a takedown, all while Nemkov worked him over with offense to all targets. An urgent “Overtime” rushed out of his corner in the fifth stanza, under the expectation he likely needed a finish, and Nemkov sensed this and never stopped moving. The American kept a stiff upper lip and disguised a limp that developed after repeated unchecked calf kicks, but it was not meant to be. Nemkov maintained a high work rate for all five rounds, sealing the deal and claiming the clear-cut victory.

Nemkov shut down any detractors while becoming $1 million richer, as he prevailed in the grand prix with his statement performance. His next opponent met him in the cage right after he had his hand raised, as former top Ultimate Fighting Championship contender Yoel Romero will be his next test in the co-headliner of Bellator 290 in February.

The co-main attraction saw Patricky Freire put his lightweight strap on the line for the first time against unblemished Dagestan native Usman Nurmagomedov. The 24-year-old American Kickboxing Academy displayed all of his skills in a complete and one-sided effort, dominating Freire over all five rounds. The judges handed in tallies of 50-45, 50-44 and 50-44, with victory for the new champion rarely in any doubt.

The champ spent the majority of the first round gauging the challenger, but Nurmagomedov (16-0, 5-0 BMMA) did far more, spamming kicks to mark up Freire’s (24-11, 15-9 BMMA) body and lead leg. Partway through the second round, the Russian chained a clean left hand into a solid double-leg entry, and he spent the next few minutes punishing “Pitbull” from top position. Freire attempted to escape with seconds remaining in the round, spurring Nurmagomedov into action. The undefeated fighter poured it on with punches and ferocious elbows, nearly earning a stoppage only for the bell to save Freire.

Nurmagomedov hoped to pick up where he left off, hunting for trips or any kind of level change to disrupt and put Freire on his back. When not on the mat, he potshotted the Brazilian with reaching kicks, frustrating the lightweight titleholder and rolling with the worst of the blows. The crowd grew restless as Freire responded with little in the way of offense, while Nurmagomedov appeared to reach cruising altitude. “Pitbull” had no answers for the kicking game of his foe, as he loaded up on more powerful but ultimate inaccurate winging strikes that the Russian dodged with ease.

With his corner, including brother Patricio Freire, incensed at his lack of activity and disappointing performance thus far, they urged him into immediate action. This worked, as Freire raced out of his corner for the last round, where he began to lay into the challenger with heavy right hands. Nurmagomedov reeled and showboated a little, before hitting a slick takedown to deflate the energized Brazilian. After a few grinding minutes for the unbeaten man, a bloodied Freire exploded upright. This proved fruitless, as Nurmagomedov almost instantly landed a mat return. With one minute left on the clock, “Pitbull” spun around and got bucked off to force them back to their feet. Freire threw with everything he had left, but the younger man proved too elusive to absorb anything serious flush before time ran out.

While two of his three career decision victories have come under the Bellator banner, Nurmagomedov successfully claimed the 155-pound throne and elevated himself to a perfect 16-0.

Dagestan has another talented up-and-comer on its hands with Timur Khizriev, who made a splash with Bellator by defeating two-time 145-pound title challenger Daniel Weichel. As he has in six of his last eight victories, Khizriev required the full allotted time to get his hand raised. When the dust settled, “Imam” earned scores of 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 to pick up the unanimous decision win.

The majority of the contest played out on the feet, and Khizriev (12-0, 1-0 BMMA) proved the quicker and far more accurate of the two. Clocking in just about 11 years older than his adversary, Weichel (42-14, 11-6 BMMA) measured up a step slower while getting beaten to the punch repeatedly. Effective kicks sprinkled into combinations allowed Khizriev to gain the upper hand in the first two rounds. Likely down on the scorecards, the German showed signs of life midway through the last round. Threatening with submissions off his back including a Suloev stretch, and ringing the Dagestan native's bell with a flying knee, “Drake” had his moments but could not do enough damage to get Khizriev out of there. Ultimately, his late aggression swayed one judge to presumably consider that round in his favor, but it was not nearly enough to get his hand raised.

Khizriev boosted his spotless record to 12-0 as a pro in his successful promotional debut, doing so by knocking off Bellator’s seventh-ranked featherweight.

Daniel James made the most of his return to the Bellator ranks, as he previously made his pro debut with the league in 2014. Stepping up to face homegrown heavyweight talent Tyrell Fortune, James knocked Fortune’s block off with a brutal uppercut and follow-up strikes. The stoppage came 27 seconds into Round 2.

James (14-6-1, 2-0 BMMA) had moments early in the opening frame, but Fortune’s (12-3, 1 NC; 12-3, 1 NC BMMA) wrestling turned the tables after landing a knee to the groin. The Bellator stalwart kept James on his seat for much of the round, preferring control time over damaging offense until he caught James in a scramble. The former ACA champion walked up the cage and wound up in rear-naked choke danger, only to survive with savvy hand-fighting and spin around to hammer Fortune with powerful ground strikes until the bell. “The American Predator” ripped a massive uppercut that sent Fortune crashing to the mat just seconds into Round 2. A barrage of fists and elbows to a downed Fortune, including a questionable few that landed behind the ear, prompted referee Rob Madrigal to call the fight.

The victorious James announced himself to the organization as the no. 5 heavyweight, while lifting his career finish rate to a stellar 93%.

The main card commenced with a welterweight tilt that likely promised a spot in Bellator’s top 10, as the 10th-ranked Roman Faraldo (8-1, 5-1 BMMA) battled it out with Georgia’s Levan Chokheli (11-2, 1 NC; 2-2 BMMA). The fight that took place everywhere, and featured a little bit of everything, resulted in a decision win for the Phoenix Sportakademie Kassel prospect, who earned three matching scores of 29-27.

Over the course of three rounds, the two engaged with wild back-and-forth exchanges, replete with several momentum shifts. Coming into this encounter with Chokheli, Faraldo had never before seen a third round as a pro, with all eight of his previous outings ending by knockout within 9:09. The pace and wrestling of Chokheli appeared to get the better of his opponent by Round 3, as he landed cleaner and grounded the undefeated Floridian to take the wind out of his sails and shut down any chance of a comeback. Referee Rob Madrigal deducted one point from Faraldo in the second round due to repeated fence grabs, and did so without disrupting the action or compromising a position.

The loss marks the first in Faraldo’s career, while the 26-year-old from Georgia earned just his second win on the scorecards.

In preliminary action, middleweight Imamshafi Aliev (9-0, 1-0 BMMA) elbowed Sean Connor Fallon’s (16-8, 0-1 BMMA) face open to force a doctor stoppage at 3:20 of the first round; 155er Killys Mota (14-3, 3-2 BMMA) grinded out Jairo Pacheco (7-1, 0-1 BMMA) to pick up a grueling decision win with a trio of 30-27 scores; Archie Colgan (6-0, 3-0 BMMA) blew through Jesse Hannam (2-2, 0-1 BMMA) in 50 seconds to stay undefeated as a lightweight; Sullivan Cauley (5-0, 5-0 BMMA) made a statement to fellow light heavyweights by sending Jay Radick (3-1, 0-1 BMMA) to the danger zone with vicious ground-and-pound, forcing referee Jason Herzog to dive in at 1:01 of Round 1; rising middleweight Jordan Newman (5-0, 5-0 BMMA) bullied Jayden Taulker (2-3, 0-1 BMMA) before locking up a second-round rear-naked choke, with the tap coming at 3:20; unbeaten 145-pounder Laird Anderson (3-0, 3-0 BMMA) crucified Rob Fenicle (2-3, 1-1 BMMA) in the second round, drumming Fenicle out at 2:28 with elbows and punches; Isaiah Hokit (2-1, 2-1 BMMA) beat down outmatched featherweight Matias Nader (3-1, 0-1 BMMA) to procure the stoppage at 3:48 into the second frame; the night began with heavyweight Wladimir Gouvea (1-0, 1-0 BMMA) making his successful pro debut by clobbering Kory Moegenburg (2-5, 0-2 BMMA) with a knee and punches at 1:46 of Round 2.

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