The World Cup is still a few weeks away, but we've got a battle between Bulgaria vs. Russia this Saturday night (May 17, 2014) at Bellator 120: "Rampage vs. King Mo" at Landers Center in Southaven, Mississippi.
The Bellator heavyweight tournament final features the undefeated Blagoi Ivanov (11-0, 1 No Contest) against former Bellator heavyweight champion Alexander Volkov (21-4). Their anticipated heavyweight fight is set for the main card pay-per-view (PPV) broadcast.
After being stabbed in a nightclub outing with his friends in 2012, Bulgarian doctors declared it was just a matter of time before Ivanov would lose his life.
Two years later, not only is the 27-year-old combatant still kicking, but he's also strung together four wins in the organization since the unfortunate occurrence and finds himself in a tournament final (which is more or less deemed a title eliminator bout). The Sofia-based fighter has looked anything but weak in his recent performances, toppling all of his opponents in one-sided victories.
Volkov has been on a tear since losing his heavyweight title to current champion Vitaly Minakov last fall, crushing Mark Holota and Siala-Mou Siliga (better known as "Mighty Mo"). "Drago" has a promotional record of 5-1 under the Bellator banner and a victory over the 2008 World Sambo Champion would set up a rematch against his Russian counterpart.
Let's break down both fighters below:
Big Wins: Lavar Johnson (Bellator 116), Rich Hale (Bellator 111), Keith Bell (Bellator 109)
Crushing Losses: None
What He Needs To Do In Order To Win: To say this Bulgarian brute is well rounded would be an understatement. He's got vicious power in his fists, but his grappling game is a threat for any heavyweight in the division.
He's got five submission wins under his belt and making his Russian foe uncomfortable by smothering him would be the way to go here. He needs to chase him down and give him no space to breathe, much like he did against Lavar Johnson in his last fight at Bellator 116. He does need to be careful when it comes to counters, since "Big" had success with a few reversals before he was submitted.
Volkov has good takedown defense, yet Ivanov needs to close the distance at every occasion and try to take him down mercilessly. Considering his adversary only has one submission win on his record, the Bulgarian needs to showcase his higher-level skills on the mat.
What He Needs To Avoid: The undefeated heavyweight shouldn't enter this fight believing he's a superior striker, even if he could finish the scrap with his fists at any moment. His foe will want to keep his distance from him, so Ivanov can't afford to strategically pick his shots by standing in the pocket.
Also, the Russian is quite versatile on the feet, so the Sambo champion needs to be wary of his kicks and the way he sets them up, too.
Long story short, he can't let "Drago" touch his chin with a big shot.
Big Wins: Siala-Mou Siliga (Bellator 116), Mark Holota (Bellator 111) Rich Hale (Bellator 84)
Crushing Losses: Vitaly Minakov (Bellator 108), Maxim Grishin (M-1 Selection 2010: Eastern Europe Finals)
What He Needs To Do In Order To Win: The Russian is an extremely tight striker who utilizes his size well and mixes things up by throwing a plethora of kicks to wear down his opponents. He also has the ability to finish a fight against anyone who decides to stand and trade with him.
We saw "Drago" keep his distance against "Mighty Mo" in his last fight and that's exactly what he needs to do against Ivanov. It's going to be difficult since the Bulgarian will presumably rush him like a bull, but if the former champion makes him pay early for being a little too eager, Ivanov will resort to being more careful. That's what Volkov wants in order to throw him off his game.
He's a big boy, so it would be advantageous to use his reach and keep Ivanov at bay whenever he can. With that being said, it may not be a good idea to let this fight drag on, even though his cardio could keep him in there. He needs to hurt Ivanov right off the bat and look to end the fight quickly, which is easier said than done.
What He Needs To Avoid: Volkov needs to stay away from the grappling exchanges and the clinch. It would be beneficial if he tires out his opponent by keeping his distance and proceeds to land shots from the outside. His grappling techniques aren't too shabby, although it's not the battle he wants to get himself into, since his opponent is another type of animal on the canvas.
Also, his chin has been put into question a few times, so he desperately needs to avoid being hit with a good, clean shot. If he's caught with a bomb, followed by a flurry, his night is going to suck.
Final Assessment: They say styles make fights and we've got a prime example here. But, it doesn't necessarily mean this bout will be the most enthralling contest you've ever seen, either. It should be a good fight, however, keep in mind this is a Bellator heavyweight fight. We've witnessed some stinkers in the past and hopefully, this battle is going to be an exciting war between two dudes known for their intensity.
It's certainly an intriguing fight to put on the PPV broadcast.