Tournament formats have gained popularity in MMA in recent years. Bellator has been consistently holding Grand Prix tournaments across different weight classes for several years, and it’s nice for the fighters in that they lay out clear, defined paths to a title. Nothing has been more frustrating than watching other promotions hold up entire divisions while chasing money fights.
Bellator is currently in the tail end of the quarterfinal round of the Welterweight World Grand Prix. Many of the division’s mainstays, including Douglas Lima, Paul Daley and Michael “Venom” Page, landed spots in the tournament, along with current champ Rory MacDonald and No. 1 contender Jon Fitch. So far, Page has defeated Daley, Neiman Gracie has defeated Ed Ruth, and Lima has submitted former two-time tournament winner and former division champ Andrey Koreshkov.
It’s obviously a huge letdown for any competitor to wash out in the first round of a bracket, but the tournament format keeps the path clear and allows a fighter to get back on track for a title shot by tournament end. Koreshkov has been at the top in the past, and he plans to be there again. It all starts with his takeaways from his trilogy fight with Lima.
“There are quite a bit of things I should pay attention to and that I should improve after my previous fight against Doug Lima,” Koreshkov told Combat Press. “I don’t want to openly discuss them, because I don’t want to expose myself to my future opponent. I don’t want to let them know the parts of my game that I consider to be my weakest parts. At the same time, any person should be learning, evolving, and getting better. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Koreshkov, who fought Lima in September, faces his next opponent at Bellator 219 in Temecula, Calif., on Friday night. He was originally slated to meet Lorenz Larkin. However, a few weeks out, Larkin withdrew with an injury, and he was replaced by promotional newcomer Mike Jasper.
“I feel that, stylistically, this fighter isn’t much different,” Koreshkov said. “Lorenz Larkin is a striker who can obviously grapple and wrestle, and the same is true with Mike Jasper. He’s a striker, which can grapple and wrestle. The only difference is that Lorenz Larkin is better than Mike Jasper. He’s way more technical, he’s faster, and he’s stronger. When I first heard my fight with Lorenz was canceled and I had a different opponent, I was glad the fight was still happening on this card. And, the opponent is not that much different than Lorenz, style-wise.”
Jasper is currently on a three-fight winning streak in the California Xtreme Fighting promotion, but those three fights span a range from December 2016 to April 2018. He has not been very active. Koreshkov, though, has only fought four times in that same period of time. Two of the Russian’s last four fights were losses to Lima, who holds similar Bellator accolades as Koreshkov, and one was a TKO win over Chidi Njokuani, who was a much larger opponent. The gap in experience between Jasper and Koreshkov is quite large.
“I can assure you that we are going to stand and bang, and I think it’s going to be a brutal stand-up fight,” Koreshkov said. “I think that’s what people can expect.”
Koreshkov is not overlooking Jasper by any means, but his eyes are definitely focused on the long-term. He has had plenty of experience in working his way up to a title shot, and he is more than prepared to do it again. Training under longtime head coach and former Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko at Storm Fight School in his hometown of Omsk, the 28-year-old welterweight will be ready after the tournament final to take another shot at the strap.
“I plan to fight as often as possible, and I plan to win all of my fights,” said Koreshkov. “I really hope that I will be able to fight for the belt by the end of the year. I don’t know if this will happen, because the tournament takes a while. I know the semifinals will be soon, but I’m not sure when the finals are going to be. I will do my best to get qualified to fight for the belt. If it’s this year, that would be great, but if not, I’ll do everything to make sure it happens next year.”
The tournament format is not only a clearly defined path, but it is also a fair one. The winners move closer to the belt, and the ones who don’t advance at least know what they need to do. On Friday night, Koreshkov gets his next opportunity to spark a run at the title. Someday, he might be able to fight Lima again for the fourth time, as long as it is under the right terms.
“Yes, I would like to fight him again,” admitted Koreshkov. “If I beat everyone in front of me in my next fights, then, yes, I would get to fight him again if he is the champ at that time. I think this is a good possibility.”