In the sports world, a prevalent term exists, one which is often referred to as “playing one’s own game.” Mixed martial arts fans hear this language commonly, but we never stop to think of what it means because the bare bones of every fight features one fighter looking to win with a striking-based game plan, while the other intends to win with a grappling-based game plan. Of course, the game-plans for the expansion of major MMA promotions, much like those of the athletes competing in those bouts, always have the tendency to change over time.

From the inception of Bellator MMA, the promotion and the brass behind it always had the vision of turning it into the best MMA product anywhere in the world, and a lot of what went into that vision related to the promotion’s tournament format. Eight men in a division would compete for $100,000 and a shot at the champion.

While the tournaments went on, the majority of the champions would often take on non-title fights, with some winning and others losing in those instances. Like all MMA bouts, they worked very well for a good amount of time. As the company moved forward and secured its spot on Spike TV, however, things eventually turned hectic in a variety of ways, causing a ton of drama and the departure of quite a few of Bellator’s mainstays.

Earlier this year, Bellator made a dramatic change when they accepted the resignation of former CEO Bjorn Rebney, which led to former Strikeforce head-honcho Scott Coker accepting the reins as the new head of the company. For Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko, his own impressions of Coker came in his lone meeting with Coker. The meeting took place at Bellator 122 this past July, the event where former Bellator welterweight title contender Andrey Koreshkov, a student of the middleweight champion, scored an overwhelming decision win in a welterweight tournament final against Adam McDonough.

“I met Scott only once,” Shlemenko told The MMA Corner, “at the event where one of my students, Andrey Koreshkov, won the welterweight tournament. We met, basically exchanged a couple of words, and it would be difficult for me to give my opinion of Scott. My first impression would be that he was a very nice and eloquent person.”

Among the many changes to Bellator during Coker’s rule has been the dissolution of the tournament format. Even before Shlemenko won the Bellator middleweight title, Shlemenko was relegated to fighting outside of Bellator on five different occasions. Therefore, Shlemenko can honestly say he looks forward to whatever lies ahead in the “Coker Era” of the promotion solely because he knows that he will get a great opportunity to fight more often now that the tournament structure is gone for the foreseeable future.

“Since these changes are recent, it would be difficult for me to say now what they will lead up to. However, I think that for me, and for a [Bellator] champion, this change maybe is for the best, because I won’t have to wait a long time for individual challengers to win the tournament, then rest, and then fight me. Rather, I would be able to fight more often, and that’s what I want to do as champion.”

As Shlemenko prepares for his fourth title defense as part of Friday’s Bellator 126 card in Phoenix, AZ, he knows the challenge in front of him inside and out. The undefeated challenger, Brandon “Bull” Halsey, comes in on the strength of a win over former Bellator middleweight title contender Brett Cooper, who holds the distinction of being the only man in Bellator to have fought Shlemenko twice. Despite showing grittiness against the champ, Cooper still suffered a tough submission loss to Halsey, which led to “Bull” not only winning the season-ten middleweight tourney, but also earning his crack at Shlemenko’s gold. Because Shlemenko intends to hold on to his belt for a little while longer, he plans on counteracting anything Halsey brings to the Bellator cage first, and then if anyone wants to ask “who’s next?”, the champion will address the question directly.

“I think [this fight] would be my style of fighting, and I’m going to fight Brandon standing up, and I think that’s what makes this fight entertaining and interesting. For the MMA fans that haven’t seen me fighting yet, I would like to say that, guys, once you see at least one of my fights, you won’t miss the rest of my career or the rest of my fights. You’ll be watching them because when I fight, I fight on the feet, and I fight to finish my opponents—to knock them out. I never try to steal points or try to steal rounds; I always fight to finish my opponents, and I think this is what MMA is all about, and that is what makes it entertaining, this is what gets MMA fans all over the world to either buy pay-per-views, turn on the television, or go to the arenas to watch these types of fights, the exciting fights.”

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.