Bellator 146 will go down this Friday night (Nov. 20, 2015) at WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla., featuring a MIddleweight main event war between Hisaki Kato and Melvin Manhoef.
Manhoef is looking to get back on track and find the same ferocious form he showed in Bellator 125's main event in Sept. 2014 where he made quick work of Doug Marshall, finishing him in the first two minutes.
Marshall hasn't returned to MMA since.
Unfortunately for "No Mercy," things took an unexpected turn, losing an upset in emphatic fashion to Joe Schilling at Bellator 131 via second-round knockout and then falling to Alexander Shlemenko in similar, brutal fashion at Bellator 133.
In what is perhaps a fortunate twist for Manhoef, that loss is now considered a "No Contest" because Shlemenko failed a post-fight drug test for steroids to a ridiculous degree, earning a three-year suspension for the transgression.
It's now or never for Manhoef, 39, to start a new chapter in his lengthy, highlight reel-heavy career. He recently spoke with MMAmania.com today about facing Hisaki Kato in the Bellator 146 main event on Spike TV this weekend. And he started out by hailing Allstars Training Center, which he claims has made him a whole new man.
"I have a good training camp now. I went to Sweden, trained with (Alexander) Gustafsson, trained with Ilir (Latifi), I was in Sweden for a long time so I'm gonna be sharp and I'm gonna be hardcore. I think I'm going to be as how people know me you know? What people all know me for you know -- I will bring that - I'm gonna bring that."
Manhoef is well known for delivering heavy, fearsome blows. He's got 27 knockouts in MMA and 27 knockouts in kickboxing. It's clear that there's nothing Manhoef likes better than to stand and deliver, but he vows to be ready for anything.
"I always think that it's going to be a stand up war y'know? This is always how I go into the fight. If the fight will go to the ground, I have trained so good with all of the guys (that) I'm also not afraid to be on the ground any more. Before it was like different, but I think I can be on the ground, fight on the ground, fight up stand up so it doesn't matter where the fight has to go. The fight only has to go one way -- at the end of it I win the fight."
For Manhoef it's not just a matter of taking some time off since his last fight or learning new styles from different people in the interim. He vows that he's now 99 percent committed to MMA, leaving the door open just a crack for anything else.
"Maybe I'm going to do one farewell fight in K-1-style maybe or something like this, but for now I want to have the focus on MMA. I had a very good training camp with the guys from Allstars and they treated me well. I was training jiu-jitsu, training wrestling, and I enjoyed it so much. I think that if I can focus and keep myself doing this for like half a year that people are going to have a real problem. That is what I want, so I'm going to go for it."
Since Alexander Gustafsson's team kept coming up in conversation, I couldn't resist asking Manhoef his opinion on Gustafsson's performance against Daniel Cormier at UFC 192.
"He had a great fight, a superior fight you know? He did what he had to do, he took Cormier down, that was an awesome fight. I really really have a lot more respect than I had for him already because of his performance -- and I'm glad that he helped me for this fight for Bellator. He helped me a lot."
Getting back to Hisaki Kato, though, Manhoef talked about having seen what Kato can do and being ready to deal with Kato being as powerful on the feet as him.
"I saw his fight and he likes to stand and bang, and if that is what he decides to do I'm willing to do that with him, so the fans and everybody will enjoy the fight. And if he wants to go to the ground, I'm also willing to do that. I'm putting so much time and effort into everything, so for me it doesn't matter what is going to happen. It's going to be fun fight and I'm going to enjoy it."
Manhoef thinks the only thing that can hold him back is being too reckless when he goes for the finish.
"When you come from the attacking, you're gonna leave some gaps you know? It's normal. When you're rushing in, rushing forward to finish a fight, of course sometimes you're going to open some gaps. It's not about technical things or something, but there is a moment that hand has to go away from my head, otherwise the fun won't come you understand? And in that time, sometimes I'm like too eager to do that and it cost me a lot of fights."
The question then is how much longer Manhoef can have that "fun" at an elite level. He's almost 40 and already has a full lifetime of combat experience in two different sports, so the clock would appear to be ticking on the close of his career.
"We're gonna take it step by step. I'm like 39, but I feel like 29, so that's why (I can still fight). It depends (on) how the body takes it. My body has very good conditioning and we will see. I think I want to become champion first and then say goodbye. I want the belt. I really, really want to say goodbye to MMA as like a Bellator champion. I had a fantastic career I know, but, with that it would be like how you say it: 'The cherry on the cake,' man."
Before Manhoef can have his cake and eat it too, he'll have to defeat Kato in Bellator 146's Spike TV main event. And that's no small feat.
Complete audio of our interview is below and complete Bellator MMA coverage can be found right here on fight night.