Bellator 176: “Carvalho vs. Manhoef” takes place this Saturday afternoon (April 8, 2017) at Pala Alpitour in Torino, Italy, featuring a rematch between Middleweight champion Rafael Carvalho against Melvin Manhoef, who first faced each other at Bellator 155 in Boise.
Carvalho initially got his reign off to an impressive start by finishing Brandon Halsey with a liver kick to claim the vacant 185-pound title. After such a hot start, though, one might have expected a similarly strong performance against Manhoef in his first defense, but the fight was a let down to all.
Bellator previously tried to put this fight together in Italy back in Dec. 2016, but Carvalho was forced to wait because of an injury, so in a recent interview with MMAmania.com (conducted by e-mail) it seems that delay has only made him even more motivated to answer critics of their first fight.
“I was not satisfied, the fans were not satisfied, Spike TV was not satisfied, (Scott) Coker was not satisfied and neither Trump was satisfied. That was bullshit. Shame on me and Melvin Manhoef.”
If you think that’s a surprisingly candid (even harsh) assessment, he’s equally as unflinching in his opinion of Manhoef’s performance in particular.
“I expected the real Manhoef, but only came the defective clone, he simply ran away from the fight and was throwing low kicks. I walked forward, but he did not want the strikers fray.”
Of course, Manhoef has a different take on the fight, saying that Carvalho was the one who stayed at range and made it hard to engage. Carvalho is having none of that explanation.
“Manhoef changed his style — he did not come aggressive, he was afraid that I would use wrestling to get him to the ground. He was a coward and a coward can not be a champion of anything.”
Even in an interview conducted by e-mail it’s not hard to tell Carvalho’s tone here is one of frustration and regret mixed with a complete and utter disdain for how Manhoef chose to fight.
“I was disappointed, I did not understand why he did not want the open fight. He knew I was injured and even then continued to kick under my knee injury and did not leave to try to define the fight. Even injured, I walked forward, but he just circled and walked away.”
It’s as though the temperature is on high and Carvalho is boiling over with anger. The only way he’s going to simmer down is to go out in front of the mixed martial arts (MMA) world and prove his point.
“I am the champion and I conquered this in the cage with a clean performance. It's not my fault if Bellator gives me an opponent who does not want a fight. Melvin has never been champion of anything in all the big events that fought. It will never be, because (he) has no heart and no champion spirit. I hope he fights forward this time — (it) is what everyone wants to see.”
Carvalho doesn’t just want to prove a point to himself on the biggest stage possible -- he wants to prove it to all of the fans who expected more from his last title fight.
“The fans are the engine of this sport, and we fighters are paid to do a fight that makes the fans vibrate. It was not what we did, if I had paid to see that fight I would have been very angry. It was a fucking fight. No matter if it was for this or another reason, it was horrible. That's why we're going to repair it. And I hope this guy decides to fight this time. I am the champion, so if he wants to take my place he needs to come to the fight.”
It would seem the champion also has a little advice for his second time opponent — don’t be scared homie!
“If he wants to be champion he can not stand (at) the distance, he needs to attack. He has successfully done this his whole career, I do not understand why he wants to change now. I'm the champion and I'm ready for a kickboxing fight with MMA gloves, but he needs to want the fight.”
The funny thing is that Carvalho thinks if Manhoef gives him the fight he wants, “a kickboxing fight with MMA gloves,” that’s just going to make things much easier for him.
“If he is the Manhoef that everyone knows (it) will be a great fight and I will knock him out before the five rounds end. If he runs again he will not escape this time because I have a B strategy. That is (to say), he will not be able to escape this time.”
You might think after all of this that Carvalho has no respect for Manhoef, but in truth he does think highly of “No Mercy” if not his last fight.
“Despite the disappointment of the fight Melvin offered me, he still deserves a lot of respect for the fighter (he) was in MMA history. I'm thinking only of (the) knockout. I'm not interested in anything else, he's a dangerous fighter when he decides to fight, but I'm ready to take him down.”
I honestly think he meant “take him down” as in “dismantle my foe,” but it’s possible he just tipped his hand as to a possible strategy. It’s also possible that’s very clever double entendre.
He’s not trying to be cute in the Bellator cage, though. Four letter words and all, Carvalho is as serious as it gets about proving himself in this rematch.
“I honestly did not learn anything (last time). You cannot learn anything from that fucking fight. The only thing I could learn would be to feel embarrassed ... when you knew that nothing worked. We're going to do better.”
Don’t miss Bellator 176: “Carvalho vs. Manhoef” this weekend live and free on Spike TV to see if Carvalho delivers on that promise. Complete Bellator MMA coverage can be found right here.