Consider the doubters silenced following the conclusion of Bellator’s light heavyweight grand prix at Bellator 288 in Chicago on Friday night.
Bellator 288 was headlined by the rematch between Corey Anderson and Vadim Nemkov for the finale of the grand prix. The tournament was supposed to end earlier this year in the pair’s initial showdown, but an unfortunate, accidental foul at the end of the third round by Anderson resulted in a no-contest and likely cost the challenger one million dollars, since he was winning the fight handily.
Still, given that MMA fights have infinite paths they can take, the fight remained compelling, though this time around Anderson was the betting favorite after being an underdog last time out.
Despite the odds, an improved Nemkov showed up Friday, one who had noticeably shored up his takedown defense.
The challenger came out working his jab early in the Bellator 288 main event, but Nemkov was able to land a big right hand counter for first blood. Corey then shot a single leg but Vadim was able to defend well and get back to striking range. Nemkov found more success with his right hand, landing it over the jab of Anderson and looking sharp early on.
Corey responded by shooting a single leg and elevating it up high but Nemkov stayed on his feet. Anderson switched to a body lock and got Nemkov to his back but in the ensuing scramble the Russian was able to get back to his feet. Still, forcing his opponent to work seemed crucial to the Anderson gameplan given the cardio issues of Nemkov in the first fight. Corey constantly feinted more single leg shots to mix things up. A big right uppercut from Anderson seemed to hurt Nemkov late in round one but the champ was able to avoid follow up shots and recover.
In the round’s biggest moment, Nemkov threw a big spinning back kick that grazed the top of the head and dropped Anderson in the last ten seconds of the stanza. Corey got to his knees and went for a takedown. Nemkov charged in and attempted a blatantly illegal soccer kick but he luckily missed and the round ended, with Vadim securing it with the knockdown.
Both men landed big shots in the pocket twenty seconds into the second round and both ate the punches well. Nemkov’s striking remained sharp as he was able to pull and slip away from a lot of Anderson’s punches and return fire. Another Anderson takedown attempt was stuffed in the second minute of the round. Corey clinched up to try to engage his wrestling but Vadim was able to use a unique grip to keep from being pushed back to the fence. The champ eventually separated despite the double underhooks of Anderson. As the second round drew to a close Nemkov seemed to not be tiring, as he had in the last fight, which boded well for him in the later rounds.
Corey shot a takedown instantly in the third round and was stuffed again, making him zero out of nine on his attempts. The fighters traded jabs for most of the first minute of round three with Nemkov landing more often. Anderson once again shot a takedown but Nemkov once again was able to deny it and get back to striking. Corey then landed a few decent right hands and Vadim looked to shoot his own takedown but Anderson stuffed it and poured on the pressure, feeling a momentum change perhaps. The challenger began to walk down Nemkov and land much more, winning the striking clearly for the first period in the fight. Nemkov remained dangerous though and soon defused the pressure of his foe, making the last minute of the round much more even.
The championship rounds arrived and with them came another failed takedown attempt from Anderson. An awkward sequence where Corey caught Nemkov with his back turned allowed the challenger to get the champ in the clinch against the fence, but Nemkov remained excellent at separating from such positions. Halfway through the round a calf kick from Vadim caught Corey shooting for a takedown and the challenger fell to a knee, showing a sign of weakness. Nemkov then went back to that well again and again. Anderson showed frustration when Nemkov’s mouth guard fell out and Corey kicked it across the mat. The champ put it back in and kept fighting. A good right hand by Anderson allowed him to get into the clinch with one minute left in the fourth but once again Nemkov separated. He immediately hammered home the calf kick again. As with much of the fight, the fourth round had been competitive throughout but the champion constantly had the upper hand by landing more and avoiding takedowns.
Anderson came out and landed a good left hook in the final round but Nemkov got back to his jabbing ways to keep distance. Vadim then defended another takedown and began to mix up the kicks, going to the body to keep Corey honest. Nemkov was outstriking Anderson cleanly once again and separating when Corey’s failed takedown attempts ended up in clinch positions. He made particular use of frames to keep Corey from using head position to press up against him. A big right hand landed for the champion with two minutes left and he got back on the calf kicks. It was no small feat for Anderson to stay on his feet despite the damage to his lower leg, especially when most of those kicks caught him with his weight forward. Nemkov began to get fancy in the last minute as he focused on kicking and threw a few spinning back kicks like the one he got the knockdown with in the first round. The fight drew to a close with a clear Nemkov win and Anderson’s hometown crowd voicing their displeasure at the fact.
It must have been a tough pill to swallow for Anderson when the scorecards were read. He had been dominating the first fight before a medium sized cut caused it to be stopped only moments before the time needed to go to a technical decision. He was so unlucky to not get the victory, but Nemkov was more impressive than ever as he remained both undefeated as a Bellator fighter and the Bellator light heavyweight champion. The changes and growth that Nemkov achieved at American Top Team in preparation for this fight were nothing short of brilliant.
Having won the light heavyweight grand prix, Vadim Nemkov will next face Yoel Romero at Bellator 290 in February.
Official Result: Vadim Nemkov def. Corey Anderson by unanimous decision (48-47, 49-46, 49-46)