Rusfighters team members Alexander “Drago” Volkov (24-4) and Alexander “Tiger” Sarnavskiy (30-2) compete in the main card of Bellator 136. Former Bellator heavyweight champion Alexander Volkov faces AKA’s Tony “Hulk” Johnson Jr. (8-2), riding a 5-fight winning streak. Also enjoying 5 consecutive successes is “Tiger” Sarnavskiy, who faces the young leg lock specialist Marcin Held (20-3) at lightweight. With translation provided by Rusfighter team manager Alexei Zhernakov, we ask about the team and what fans can expect at Bellator 136.
SF: Having been in Bellator for several years now, do you prefer the current matchmaking format or do you prefer the previous tournament format?
Sarnavskiy: I think that the tournament system was very honest. Basically, the person who won the tournament proved himself to be the strongest and proved to be a title contender. At the time, it was unique because nobody else had the tournament system. Right now, Bellator has the same system that everybody else has and sometimes you know, it’s up to their minds who the next title challenger should be. It’s up to matchmakers. In my opinion, the tournament system was more honest.
Volkov: Right now, Bellator has become more show-oriented like a lot of other promotions. For young fighters who do not have their names in the market the tournament system was more more interesting because they had a chance to showcase their skills. If they were good enough they had a chance have 3 fights in a 3 month period, make good money and be on TV. The new system is better for the fighters who already have name recognition because they are able to fight in a main or co-main event and make decent money doing so. But for the young fighters it’s more difficult to make a name for themselves in the new format.
SF: Bellator recently put on a British Invasion card in the US. Would you like to see a similar Russian card against America or Brazil?
Sarnavskiy: It would be a very interesting format.
Volkov: With the Russian team that Bellator currently has, Russia would have a very good chance at beating any other team whether it be Britain, the U.S. or Brazil. We like the idea of the team format.
SF: Mr. Volkov, there’s a lot of similarities between your previous opponent Blagoi Ivanov and your new opponent Tony Johnson. Do you think that your ground game tactics that were successful against Ivanov will be effective against Tony Johnson?
Volkov: I would respectfully disagree with you. I think that Ivanov and Johnson are actually different fighters even though they are both good grapplers. Blagoi did sambo throws, Johnson uses more wrestling takedowns. I wouldn’t say I used my ground game against Blagoi, I just happened to fall, saw an opening and took advantage of it. In my match against Johnson, I’m ready for everything so if I see an opening I will drive and try to finish him on the ground or wherever. I’m ready for wherever the fight goes, I’m ready to show my best.
SF: Tiger, do you find that a lot of Western opponents are very unfamiliar with your hand-to-hand combat striking style and are unable to match it?
Sarnaviskiy: I think Russian fighters just prefer to fight standing up because it’s more spectacular and that’s what the fans want to see, a standing battle. We’re just trying to show the fans what they want to see and I think that’s one thing about the about Russian style. We are trying to show it to the Western public.
SF: What is the Rusfighter team’s relationship with Bellator like? How did you become familiar with the organization?
Alexei Zhernakov: Actually, I can answer that question. I’m the manager and co-owner of the team. I had the chance to work directly with the best fighters that Russia currently has. Basically we looked at Bellator and saw that the cream of the crop fighters were there. The reason why Volkov and Sarnavskiy are in Bellator and fighting so successfully is because they’re good. As you know, Shlemenko is a former champion, Volkov is a former champion, all of our guys are doing good. They’re good guys, that’s the reason why we have a good relationship with Bellator. We’re delivering to them what’s promised and they do the same.
SF: Since you will be competing in our backyard, we’d like to teach you guys a bit of Southern California slang in exchange for a Russian slang word. The word is “stoked,” which means to be excited about or looking forward to something.
Zhernakov: You know you caught them off guard, that’s a good one. Mr. Volkov offers “Nishtyak” which means cool or good.
See the “Nisktyak” Rusfighters team in action in Bellator 136 on April 10th on Spike TV at 9/8C.