Bellator’s light heavyweight champion, Vadim Nemkov, makes his first title defense against a former foe in Phil ‘Mr. Wonderful’ Davis. The matchup will also be both fighters opening bout for Bellator’s current light heavyweight Grand Prix. With Ryan Bader having already progressed to the semi-finals following his victory over Lyoto Machida, both Davis and Nemkov will be keen to secure their own places in the next round of the tournament.
Vadim Nemkov – 13-2
Vadim Nemkov has been branded as the upcoming protege of MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko for much of his career. However, the young Russian is finally beginning to step out of Fedor’s shadow and has started to carve out his own legacy. He is Bellator’s current light heavyweight champion and goes into this fight as a betting favorite.
Nemkov’s bread and butter is his kickboxing. 75% of his victories have come by way of (T)KO stoppage. Most recently, and most impressively, was his victory over the former light heavyweight champion, Ryan Bader. Nemkov put on a clinic against Bader, countering his signature step in left hand and using low kicks to cut down his movement. Then, in the second round, a vicious head kick KO led to Bellator’s new 205lb champion.
Nemkov is also a reasonable wrestler in that he has been able to incorporate grappling skills into his kickboxing game. He is strong in the clinch and has a good sprawl. However, it is the area he has been most susceptible to in the past.
Phil “Mr. Wonderful” Davis – 22-5
Phil Davis brings two major factors to this matchup, and the whole outcome of the fight could depend on his utilization of both,
First is his wrestling background. ‘Mr. Wonderful’ is a former NCAA Division, 1 All-American wrestler. However, as of late, we have seen Davis attempting to force his fights down a kickboxing route, often against superior strikers. However, when Davis engages in wrestling exchanges, he gains the upper hand more often than not.
Secondly is the vast amount of experience he brings to this fight. Davis has fought professionally 27 times and has been at the top of the MMA game for years. He signed to the UFC in 2010 and fought a variety of high-level opposition. During this run, he racked up wins over UFC legends such as Alexander Gustaffson, Brian Stann, Lyoto Machida, and Glover Teixeira. He then moved over to Bellator in 2015, where he won the 205lb belt before losing it to Bader. However, during these ten years or so, fighting for the two biggest Western MMA organizations, Davis has fought a variety of different high-level opponents and has gone 5 rounds multiple times.
Both men have clear areas of expertise in this fight. However, neither have glaring holes in their game either. Their first fight, back in 2018, perfectly encapsulated this. Davis attempted to go strike for strike with Nemkov on the feet for the first two rounds. While he held his own, it was Nemkov who clearly held the striking advantage. That prompted Davis to lean into his wrestling game in the third round, dragging Nemkov down and smothering him. As it was only a 3 round fight, Nemkov went on to pick up the decision victory.
However, Davis clearly won the third round. As a result, it left many speculating if the outcome would have stayed the same had the fight been a five-rounder. Davis holds a large amount of experience in that department, whereas Nemkov has relatively little. We recently saw Ryan Bader exchange on the feet for two rounds with Lyoto Machida realize he was losing and then promptly dominate the remaining three rounds with wrestling. Davis may have great success if he follows a similar gameplan,
However, this is easier said than done with a fighter like Nemkov. His defensive wrestling will no doubt give Davis all manner of issues. Then there is also the fact that he could potentially knock Davis out at any time on the feet. He is also a prolific leg kicker, which could serve to really limit Davis’ takedown threat.
Bellator 257 is a stacked event with Vadim Nemkov facing off against Phil Davis for the main event. The co-main will feature another fight in the light heavyweight Grand Prix, as Corey Anderson takes on Dovletdzan Yagshimuradov. MMA veteran Paul Daley is set to fight Sabah Homasi, and top-ranked women’s featherweight Julia Budd will face Dayana Silva.