Bellator 153; "Koreshkov vs. Henderson" take place this Friday night (April 22, 2016) at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., featuring a main event that will see Andrey Koreshkov make his first-ever Welterweight title defense against former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) champion, Benson Henderson.
Koreshkov won the belt at Bellator 140 in July 2015, outlasting Douglas Lima over five rounds en route to a unanimous decision. In his pre-fight interview, Koreshkov vowed to do "everything possible" to win the gold and made good on that promise.
Henderson, who is making his promotional debut, has made a promise as well -- he "expects to be a world champion" under the Bellator MMA banner, too. To that end, the former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) and UFC Lightweight champion has decided to compete at 170 pounds and receive an immediate title shot.
Now that Koreshkov is in the role of champion instead of challenger, he's looking forward to his first title defense, feeling that his champion status has increased his profile in Russia, which is not something he'll part with easily.
"My life changed in a positive way. I gained name recognition in Russia and abroad, and so only positive things have been happening since winning this title."
Recognition is something his opponent Henderson has had a lot of over the last seven years -- winning two world titles in that time span. Does that mean Henderson "jumped the line" for his Bellator debut?
"To me it doesn't really matter, because I really enjoy the opportunity to fight against an opponent with such name recognition. It's a great opportunity for me to enter the cage with him and to really beat him up -- to beat him convincingly so everybody would see that I am a much better fighter than he is."
Henderson is not a guy who gets beat up easily, though. In fact, in 28 professional fights (all but eight in WEC or UFC) he's only been knocked out once and submitted twice. Koreshkov says that record doesn't matter at all because the past is history.
"I don't feel any pressure from his name recognition at all. It doesn't matter for me where he fought before, because now he's going to fight me. He's going to fight me in the Bellator cage and only this matters. His previous history doesn't bother me at all."
Another thing Henderson is well known for is his success at Lightweight, which makes his transition to Welterweight of late something of a surprise. Given their natural size difference (Koreshkov is 6'1", Henderson is 5'9") you'd think Koreshkov would view Henderson as diminutive in stature .
That's not the case.
"Well, I don't consider him to be a small Welterweight. Obviously he's not big, he's not a huge Welterweight that's for sure, but I won't say that he's like really really small. He's a normal-size Welterweight."
One other thing Henderson is well known for is going the distance in title fights. Since Koreshkov went the distance in defeating Lima for the title, that's a possibility for which he is well prepared.
"All I can say is that during my training camp, during my preparation for this fight, knowing his conditioning and that he has almost always fought for all rounds in title fights, we are ready for that. We are ready that if this should come to fighting for five rounds, I will be ready and my condition won't fail me. I'm ready for everything. If the fight would finish early that's fine, but I'm ready for all five rounds for fighting."
To hear Koreshkov tell it, the preparation is in many respects the same as all of his other fights. When you're on a five-fight win streak the old adage, "if it ain't broke don't fix it," may apply as well in Russian as in English.
"MMA is like chess. In order to be good, in order to be a champion, you must be good in everything. I don't think this is the right thing to say that I've been training some particular skill for my title defense. For the months that I was absent in the cage we trained really hard and we worked on all aspects of MMA. I can tell that everything -- wrestling, takedown defense, striking, conditioning -- everything has improved. I'm glad for this opportunity to show it in the cage when I fight Benson."
And speaking of those "absent months," Koreshkov says he wants to fight "at least three times" in 2016. That leads to the question of who is worthy to challenge Koreshkov in the future after Henderson.
"I really enjoy the fact that Bellator has a whole bunch of talented Welterweights. There are a number of guys who have been fighting really successfully in the last year or two with good records, all of them are deserving to fight. Of course it's up to Scott Coker, but if I would get the chance to choose my opponent I would like to fight a good striker like (Michael) 'Venom' Page or Paul Daley."
Good news! If Wanderlei Silva isn't available, Daley would love to fight Koreshkov. Koreshkov has his heart set on one other goal win or lose on April 22 -- he'd like Bellator to bring its international tour to Russia.
"I am very interested for Bellator to come to Russia. It would be a great chance for me to fight right in front of my Russian fans, and it's going to be a great pleasure for me (if it happens). So yes, I'm looking for Bellator to come to Russia -- it would be great."
Complete audio of our interview is below and complete Bellator MMA coverage can be found right here on fight night.