Bellator 168 "Sakara vs. Beltran" goes down Dec. 10, 2016 at Mandela Forum in Florence, Italy. The originally scheduled headline fight was a Middleweight title rematch between Rafael Carvalho and Melvin "No Mercy" Manhoef to settle the score from their first war in May.
Unfortunately for Manhoef, a second date with Carvalho will have to wait, as Carvalho has withdrawn from the show because of an undisclosed injury, leaving Alessio Sakara vs. Joey Beltran as the new main event in Florence.
For Manhoef getting a title shot in May was by his own admission "his last run" in the sport. His performance in the fifth round seemed to seal the win for Manhoef, and one of three judges scored the fight for him, but two others saw it for Carvalho to retain in a very underwhelming performance for the champion.
Today Melvin Manhoef talks to MMA Mania about what he can do differently when the two men finally meet again in a rematch that will finally settle their score once and for all.
"The opportunity to fight against him again is like a dream come true of course. Everybody saw the first fight, and you know what, I thought that I won that fight but it doesn't matter you know? I'm not going to let it happen. I'm not going to leave it to the judges now and I want to end it early."
The style of their last fight was not what fans have come to expect from Manhoef -- his wins are usually by knockout and very often in the first round. He admits the higher stakes made him approach the bout differently.
"This is like something... this is for a lifetime. To become champion is like a honor, you understand? So I didn't know that I had that in me to temper myself and have the patience to connect, but he had a good strategy, he was using his range very good so I couldn't blast him as I wanted to."
Carvalho seemed perplexed by the way their fight was going in the later rounds, but not nearly as much so as the crowd or Manhoef himself when Carvalho was announced as the winner by split decision.
"Yeah it was very stunning you know. At that moment I was thinking 'They see it better' you know? But after a while when I saw the (replay) I really think that I won the fight you know? For me it was like my chance and they don't give it to me, so I have to go and get it now. That's why I don't want to leave it to the judges."
It was also stunning to see both Carvalho and Manhoef turn and walk back to their corners before the fourth round even ended, but Manhoef puts the responsibility for that squarely on Carvalho.
"I was walking toward him, then I saw he like turned away and he didn't want to go any more. Then I said 'Okay, it's no problem -- I'll take my rest.' For me it was like strictly business you know? Strictly business. I fought to win, I didn't fight to fight. This is what people are always getting from me. When I go I (usually) fight to fight because I love to fight and I don't mind what's going to happen."
It's a fair explanation but with so much at stake it feels like both men should have been trying harder to win every second of the fight. Once again Manhoef admits the title changed his mindset.
"For me it was like this. If I fight to fight, there is a whole different kind of game and I know that everybody enjoys that. For some fights and this was an important fight, I fought to win. If you're gonna go and go (hard) to win you know you're gonna leave some openings and you know what can happen. Me and my team we have decided now to take a little bit more risk because he's the champion and I want it very bad so I think I have to do more to get it from him."
And since Manhoef is a fair minded man, he believes that a lack of enthusiasm from Carvalho in the later rounds can be read a different way than the viewers saw -- including (ironically) a possible injury.
"It was also very technical, and that is taking a lot of energy. I wanted to go in at the right time, to go in and blast, and he felt the pressure also. In the first two rounds he got some problems with some kicks, so maybe that's why he was backing off -- I don't know. That's what I thought. When he made the front kick I didn't know what happened, but it doesn't matter you know? He still didn't do enough I think to prove to people that he's a champion."
When they do finally meet again Manhoef is convinced the next fight will look nothing like the last encounter.
"All things I have to observe first, and I have observed already, so the next time I think I'm going to do it like a whole different thing. I'm going to put the pressure on and I'm going to go forward. I have to take some more risks, because I really want it you know? If you want it you have to go get it -- nobody's going to bring it to me. I'm going to do everything within my power."
Don't miss Bellator 168 "Sakara vs. Beltran" on Dec. 10 at a special start time of 4:00 pm ET live on Spike from the Mandela Forum in Florence, Italy.
Complete audio of the interview is below and complete Bellator MMA coverage can be found right here on fight night.
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