For any athlete, no light shines brighter than the ones in Madison Square Garden. Sacred ground for athletes everywhere, The Garden has hosted some of the biggest events in sports history.
In an attempt to add to his own legacy at the World Series of Fighting’s NYC event, Paul Bradley fought under those bright lights. However, after 15 grueling minutes, his career seemed to come to a standstill.
While some athletes would be lost in the awe that comes with competing in New York City, Bradley entered the event looking to capitalize on a wave of momentum. He was fresh off derailing the Chris Honeycutt hype train earlier in 2016. The win, arguably the biggest of Bradley’s career, put him in prime position to make his mark in the welterweight division. The only thing standing in his way was UFC veteran Yushin Okami.
Bradley and Okami engaged in a war of attrition, but Okami’ was the man with his hand raised after securing a split decision.
“It was tough. It definitely sucked,” Bradley told Combat Press. “I thought I did enough to win, but it didn’t turn out that way. I thought I won the first and the second [rounds]. He did a good job of outpointing me in the third. I’m a bleeder, unfortunately. I got hit by two different headbutts and got cut. That never looks good to the judges.”
As the saying goes, “As one door closes, another opens.” In Bradley’s case, that door opened to Moscow and Alexander Shlemenko.
“My manager contacted me and said M-1 was looking for an opponent against Shlemenko,” Bradley said. “He has this thing in his head where he has to fight wrestlers. He wanted an American wrestler in Russia.”
After speaking with the WSOF, Bradley was given the clearance to compete against the former Bellator middleweight champion.
“I like to fight against foreign fighters, to be honest,” Shlemenko told RT Sports. “It means a lot to me that I’ve got a serious opponent, rather than an easy one.”
Normally a welterweight, Bradley will be going back up to the 185-pound division for the first time since 2011. Although it’s rare to see fighters bump up a weight class unless struggling to cut down in training camps, Bradley simply couldn’t resist the chance to face off against the former Bellator titleholder.
“It’s one of those things where it’s a big fight,” Bradley said of going up to middleweight. “That loss to Okami really stuck at me and bothered me. What better way to get back into the mix than [by] beating someone like Shlemenko in Russia? I think a win over him in Russia puts me right back into the top of the division.”
It’ll be a tall task for the American in hostile territory. Just look at Fabio Maldonado’s fight with Fedor Emelianenko at Eurasia Fight Nights 50. Maldonado had done more than enough to take a decision victory over Emelianenko in the eyes of everyone but those judging at cageside. Fans and fighters have also been critical of competing against Brazilians when the UFC travels to the South American country. There’s certainly a disadvantage to fighting an opponent in that opponent’s native land.
“It’s going to be hard to get a decision over there,” Bradley said. “I have to make sure I put no doubt in the crowd and judges’ minds.”
The key to leaving zero doubt in the minds of the cageside officials and fans tuning in across the world? Good ol’ fashioned American wrestling.
“I think I can do that with a heavy top game and using my striking. I think I match up really well against Shlemenko,” Bradley said. “The key is to pressure him and be in his face. He likes to do a lot of that spinning stuff, so I have to make sure he doesn’t have the room to do any of that.”
Bradley’s fight will receive international exposure through a broadcast on YouTube on Friday, March 3. The card begins at 9 p.m. Moscow time, which would put the fight at 1 p.m. ET. It might not be the lights of The Garden, but this could be the first step on Bradley’s journey back to the big time.