Russian lightweight Alexander Shabliy remains undefeated in Bellator MMA, and rides a seven-fight win streak overall into this Friday’s match-up with Tofiq Musayev at Bellator 292.
The fight is a quarterfinal bout in the Bellator Lightweight Grand Prix, and Shabliy (22-3) feels like his career has been building towards a moment like this.
“All my life I’ve felt like I’m working on something big, something big is yet to come, and maybe the tournament is going to show me,” he told Cageside Press in a recent exclusive interview. “Because obviously Bellator is a great league, but the tournament and the fact that everything panned out is amazing. The belt is great but to get it through this tournament would be even better.”
It’s not just the belt and glory of winning a high-profile grand prix that is on the line, however. To the winner goes the spoils, and those spoils include a million dollars in prize money.
“Since I started, I knew that eventually I would like to make some serious money, fight for big cheques,” Shabliy said when asked about the financial windfall winning the tournament could bring him. “But you never know when that moment’s going to come. So you have to put some work in, and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
As he sees it, money can come and go, and the key is continuing to work hard. Beyond that, Shabily feels everyone in the grand prix is deserving of a big payday.
“It’s a great amount of money, but also I’m aware that once you receive it, it easily can be gone if you don’t keep working on the same level. So it’s more like, getting there. You become a million dollar man, and then you can continue that, or you can lose it easily,” Shabliy stated. “All these guys, all eight of us, put a lot of work in, and I would say they already are million dollar people.”
“If I had an opportunity, I would just give them all a million bucks, say ‘hey you guys have been putting in a lot of work, and deserve it.'”
6️⃣ years unbeaten!
In form Alexander Shabliy looks to earn his spot in the #BellatorLWGP semi-finals.
— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) March 4, 2023
In Tofiq Musayev, Shablity knows he has a serious opponent, which means that he’s taking him equally seriously. He’s not reading too much into Musayev’s success in RIZIN, however. “He’s had achievements, obviously as you said he was champion, which for me doesn’t mean anything. People grow, people lose stuff here and there. I take him as a serious opponent, but so am I. It’s a great match-up, and I’m thankful for that.”
Shabliy knew Musayev from his time on the Russian regional scene, and even had friends who sparred with his upcoming opponent. “He’s from Azerbaijan, he’s a great striker. They don’t have many athletes like him. I knew about him, but I never thought that we were going to match up in Bellator, out of all places. But when I knew that they signed him up, I knew that one way or the other, we were going to see each other at some point.”
After proclaiming himself number one contender following his win over ex-champ Brent Primus last year, however, Shabliy admits the match-up with Musayev is “a little weird to me, because basically Tofiq beat Sidney [Outlaw], and I beat [ex-champ Brent] Primus, which was a great fighter, everybody respects him, and he was #2 at the time, which automatically puts me as the first contender.”
Instead of Shabliy getting a title shot, however, Benson Henderson faces champ Usman Nurmagomedov in the Bellator 292 main event — which doubles as the second of four grand prix quarterfinals.
“So that was my opinion on that, but I’m not going to cry over that, I’m not going to be making a big deal,” continued Shabliy. “I still got a great match-up with Tofiq; I may be grateful for that even more than a title fight from the get-go. It just is what it is, and eventually we’ll see, but I’m not going to get into all the details.”
Watch our full interview with Bellator 292’s Alexander Shabliy above. The event takes place this Friday, March 10, 2023 at the SAP Center in San Jose.