WSOF 31: "Ivanov vs. Copeland" comes to Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn., this Friday night (June 17, 2016) with a NBC Sports Network-televised main event that features Blagoi Ivanov, who will attempt to make his second Heavyweight title defense against Josh "Cuddly Bear" Copeland.
Copeland presents a formidable challenge for the champion. He has 15 professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fights under his belt, boasts both Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and World Series of Fighting (WSOF) experience, and has won three of his last four bouts. In fact, his only loss in that span is to former Bellator champion Vitaly Minakov on his home turf in Moscow Russia.
Ivanov will gladly put his 15 fights (13-1, 1 NC) up against Copeland's 12-3 in the main event inside Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut. After a full year off following his first career defeat, Ivanov rocketed back to MMA stardom by dominating Smealinho Rama at WSOF 21 and taking his title in the process.
Ivanov successfully defended that title a few months later against Derrick Mehmen, and he'll look to do it again on Friday night in Mashantucket. Ivanov recently spoke with MMAmania.com about his preparations for another huge title fight, including a couple of surprising training partners.
"My camp was amazing. I spent some time at AKA training with Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier. I (also) spent time at Extreme Couture and got some really good training with Roy Nelson. The time helped me a lot for this camp."
Ivanov is taking Copeland seriously with that line up of fighters to help him train and spar before Friday's war. Cormier and Velasquez have big fights of their own next month so they may have gotten some sambo and judo tips from Ivanov, too.
Nonetheless, Copeland has a little bit of a size advantage -- Ivanov comes in 5'11" with a 73" reach while Copeland stands 6'1" with a 75" reach. Ivanov isn't concerned, though, planning to use his stocky barrel-chested frame to his advantage.
"I worry only about my gameplan, not how tall or short my opponent is. I prepared very hard for him because I respect my opponent -- 250 pounds (will be) a good weight for me."
Three of the current WSOF champions (Magomed Bibulatov at Flyweight, Alexandre Almeida at Featherweight and Jon Fitch at Welterweight) haven't made a single title defense. I asked Ivanov if he feels extra pressure as a multi-time defending champion.
"There's no pressure (for me). I've been fighting since I was eight years old and this is just one more day of competition. I'm preparing for the best Josh Copeland."
The biggest fight of Ivanov's career may have been surviving a bar room brawl stabbing in 2012 that left him on death's door several times and in a medically-induced coma for a while as his body healed.
"I'm very blessed to be here today. As long as my body allows me (to), I know I can go out there and fight to the best of my ability."
Ivanov is a man who clearly is passionate about being a fighter and being the WSOF Heavyweight champion. At only 29 years old, he's got a long future ahead of him, but he's got the blinders on and sees only the present.
"(I'm) staying in shape all year round and getting better day-by-day. My main focus right now is Josh Copeland and I'm not thinking about anyone else."
You can look forward to him doing more talking with his fists than his words this Friday night at Foxwoods, which will also host an exciting card that includes a top Lightweight contender's fight between Jason High and Mike Ricci, as well as a key Featherweight bout between Luis "Baboon" Palomino and Sheymon Moraes.
Be sure to get complete WSOF 31: "Ivanov vs. Copeland" at MMAmania.com this weekend right here.