Alexander Shlemenko (50-8) will defend his middleweight title against Brandon Halsey (7-0) for the main event matchup of Bellator 126. With only one loss in his last nine fights, the Russian is one of the greatest athletes fighting in the Bellator arena. Able to successfully defend his title 3 times, “Storm” will bring his best to make Brandon Halsey’s match #4. We ask him about the state of MMA, what it’s like to fight in the U.S. and how he plans to keep the belt on Friday.
What is your level of confidence going into Friday’s fight? Have there been any challenges in your training?
Shlemenko: I feel really well and I’m feeling really confident. My #1 goal is to make weight. I think everything is going to turn out really well.
What weight do you usually walk around at?
Shlemenko: I am usually about 198 lbs.
You’ve had a tremendous amount of fights in Russian organizations. What are the biggest differences fighting in the U.S.?
Shlemenko: It’s more difficult for me to fight in the U.S. because when I fight back at home, I fight in front of my countrymen. A lot of people are cheering for me and that really helps me. In the U.S., I have to acclimate and come here ahead of time to get my body adjusted to the different time zone and climate. It’s easier to fight back at home in Russia.
You lost your last fight to Tito Ortiz by an arm triangle submission. Have you been been putting more of an emphasis on your wrestling and jiu-jitsu for your next fight or do you feel confident in just going for the knockout?
Shlemenko: Of course I want to keep winning by knockouts because it’s much more entertaining and exciting. But at the same time, I am always ready to deal with wrestling and jiu-jitsu. After Tito’s fight I learned that when you fight an opponent who is physically bigger than you, you have to be twice as cautious as you usually are, especially on the ground.
You’re from Siberia, Russia. What do you think of the weather in Phoenix?
Shlemenko: It is a challenge but I’ve fought in Brazil a few times in open-air stadiums, so I’m kind of used to it. I don’t think it will be an issue.
You’ve stated in a recent interview that you greatly admire Fedor Emilianko for his accomplishments as an exemplary Russian MMA athlete. Have you had any interaction with him or has he given you any advice on the upcoming fight?
Shlemenko: I’ve meet Fedor a few times and we’ve spoken on the phone on several occasions. He spoke to me and knowing my style, he said that I should be more careful. I like to standup when I fight and try to KO my opponent and sometimes I leave myself open for coutershots. He told me to be more careful and maybe in the future we can train together to show me new techniques and give me some experience.
(Photo courtesy of Bellator MMA)
How did your ARB army combat fights apply to MMA?
Shlemenko: It’s a little bit different because the time of the round is shorter and the athletes have gear on. Because of the gear they allow soccer kicks, knees, elbows to the head and headbutts. The emphasis in army combat fighting is to finish your opponent as fast as possible. That’s what makes it different than MMA. If a fighter goes right from army combat fighting into MMA, he will have problems with conditioning because he’s used to a very fast-paced fight. But it’s a good basis for future MMA competition.
You’ve fought in Pankration in the past. Is there any interest on your part to train more Pankration or do you feel like the future is more in MMA?
Shlemenko: There is not much of a difference, only in the name and slight difference in the rules but that’s about it.
Sometimes even the tiniest change in rules can make a big difference for fighters. Is there anything that you feel that should be changed in MMA from the way its practiced in the West?
Shlemenko: I think that there must be some changes in MMA rules especially in the judging criteria. There is too much emphasis on position, takedowns and holding a fighter down. If a fighter is able to take an opponent down and just hold him, he can win the round and eventually win the fight. It’s just my opinion, but if you look at the fans when fights like that occur, they start booing because its boring. If there’s a change in position or ground and pound then yes, it should be counted for points in the judging criteria. However, I think that judges should stop giving points just for holding someone on the ground after a takedown.
Does it ever frustrate you to not be able to speak directly to your English-speaking opponents? Especially when it comes to trash talking and insults when promoting a fight.
Shlemenko: I can speak English and talk to my opponents and everything, however I choose not to do so because where I come from it’s not considered to be tough or good to talk before the fight. All the talk should be done in the cage or in the ring, and if you speak too much beforehand you’re like a clown before a fight. I don’t think about it too much and I prefer to do my talking in the ring.
But you do get the advantage of talking to your corner in a language that your opponent cannot understand.
Shlemenko: Yes, that’s true.
What do you think might be next for you after this fight? Win or lose.
Shlemenko: I don’t think about it, I just think about the upcoming fight. The most important thing for me is to fight, win and keep my belt.
Catch Alexander Shlemenko vs. Brandon Halsey for the middleweight world title on Spike TV at 9/8C.