The question of who is the best light heavyweight in Bellator MMA might have been answered on Saturday night. That answer might or might not have come in the headlining title bout.
Vadim Nemkov successfully defended his championship with a fourth-round submission of Julius Anglickas in the main event of Bellator 268 in Phoenix. The fight was a semifinal of the Bellator Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix, and the other semi occurred right before in the co-main event. In that one, Corey Anderson needed just 51 seconds to knock out former champion Ryan Bader in what was the most anticipated MMA fight of the weekend in any promotion.
Bellator has not yet scheduled a date for the final.
Nemkov (15-2) had one treacherous moment early on, when he was dropped by a punch midway through Round 1. The crowd roared in support of Anglickas, a late replacement Grand Prix entrant and the betting underdog. But Nemkov was not badly hurt, and he quickly got back to his feet and seized control of the fight. He battered his challenger from that point on, first with punches in the stand-up, then by taking his challenger to the canvas and threatening — and finally getting — a submission.
“The reason I went more to grappling is because he’s got a hard head,” said the 29-year-old Russian, a protégé of the legendary Fedor Emelianenko. “I hit him with a few good shots and realized it’s not going to happen. So I decided to go with the submissions.”
The finish came with 35 seconds to go in Round 4, when Anglickas tapped out to a kimura. It was Nemkov’s ninth win in a row.
Nemkov, who won the title from Bader in 2020 and was making his second title defense, originally was supposed to face Anthony Johnson, who twice had competed for the UFC 205-pound title, but “Rumble” pulled out because of an unspecified illness.
Anglickas (10-2), a 30-year-old native of Lithuania who fights out of St. Louis, got the call just three weeks ago. He came in on a nine-fight winning streak but was in just his fourth Bellator bout. He showed toughness in weathering the Nemkov assault, which showed on his bloodied face.
But the most impressive performance of the night — and in all of the Grand Prix — came from Anderson (16-5), who is 32 and from Rockton, Illinois, although he trains under coach Mark Henry in New Jersey. He dropped Bader with an overhand right in the opening seconds, then pounced on him with punches to get the quick finish.
“I knew it was over,” said Anderson, who has won seven of his past eight fights, including three in a row since joining Bellator last November after a run in the UFC. “He wasn’t getting up.”
Bader, 38, was fighting in front of his hometown fans. He wrestled at Arizona State, where he was a two-time All-American, and lives in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert. The local association was not lost on his opponent.
“Arizona, y’all might hate me, but it’s still my favorite vacation place,” Anderson said. “So you will see a lot of my face.”
Bader (28-7, 1 NC) still reigns as Bellator heavyweight champion. He ruled two divisions simultaneously before dropping the 205-pound belt to Nemkov last year.