Bellator 182: “Koreshkov vs. Njokuani” comes to Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, N.Y., this Friday night (Aug. 25, 2017), featuring a main event between former Welterweight champion Andrey Koreshkov taking on the streaking Chidi Njokuani in the night’s 170-pound main event.
However, one of the first fights advertised for this card was another 170-pound tilt between Fernando Gonzalez and Brennan Ward, with ranking implications for both men on the line. Indeed, all Welterweight fighters mentioned who are in action this weekend are angling for their spot in line behind “Red King” Rory MacDonald and/or the potential to fill in for him in as an injury replacement.
Ward is the exciting “live by the sword, die by the sword” striker. After a devastating knockout loss at Bellator 170 in January, Ward will look to return to his winning ways and potentially jump the line by delivering a finish as good as the one that he took. To get there, though, he’ll have to get past Gonzalez first. After taking the “L” in a lackluster affair with Michael “Venom” Page, Gonzalez rebounded with a hard-fought decision against the gritty Brandon Girtz in March. And another win would give Gonzalez seven out of his last eight and two in a row.
Gonzalez spoke with MMAmania.com about his critical fight with Ward at Bellator 182 in a division that has seen a major influx of top Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) talent like MacDonald and Lorenz Larkin.
“To be honest I think it’s great. I didn’t like that they’re getting the title shots right because I’ve been working, but at the same time it’s great for the promotion. The more guys that we have crossing over, it just makes Bellator more legit. Everybody’s always on UFC, saying UFC has all the top guys, (but) Lorenz Larkin was on a win streak and had just beaten Neil Magny in impressive fashion and he jumped over with us. I think it’s better for the show and (it’s) more guys for me to fight and make money with.”
If the argument for a title shot was limited to paying dues in Bellator MMA, both men would have a case. Gonzalez has seven fights dating back to 2014 and Ward has 15 dating back to 2012. They have something else in common — they’ve fought everybody other than Koreshkov or Lima.
“Any of the guys that are on the Top 10, I know eventually I’m gonna fight, so it’s not like I haven’t been game planning for all of them. There’s something in each one I know I can exploit and get my win off of. Every single one of them I’m going to get to and I’ll get my hand raised and I’ll get my title shot.”
So far the only guy to prove Gonzalez wrong is Michael “Venom” Page. Gonzalez says the key is not being afraid of longer fights knowing they pay dividends beyond a winner’s purse.
“I honestly believe some of these guys are just rushing too much. For me, I don’t mind taking it to the distance because I know eventually I’m going to have to fight a title shot, and I need to be ready for a fourth and fifth round. If you’ve never fought in that fourth and fifth it’s like hitting a brick wall. You have to have that experience and have to have the knowledge to be able to go that distance. I think it’s in their just in their style to rush it.”
“Rushing it” is possibly the best description of Ward’s fight style ever. Only one fight in his entire career went the distance (Harley Beekman in 2012), giving him finishes in 93 percent of his wins (13 of 14). Gonzalez says it’s on Ward to be wiser coming off a huge knockout loss.
“You know I’ve been there before with guys that blitz just like him (in) a lot of my fights. I’m used to the style, I’m used to that aggressiveness, and I thrive in chaos. I don’t mind getting in there and mixing it up. Honestly, just because he’s been knocked out (in) his last fight, I think it’ll be a little bit easier for me to catch him and be able to put him away.”
Ward also likes to goad his opponents into “let’s bang it out bro”-type fights and Gonzalez says he’s not about to fall for any of those tricks — he’ll bang only on his terms.
“I go in there to fight my fight. I don’t care whatever his element (is), what he wants to do, my job is to go out there and beat him and beat him impressively. Most guys just can’t handle my volume. I see him trying to play those little tactics with me and I’ll be able to finish him. Any time you drop your hands it’s not gonna be a good thing for you when you’re fighting me. The more he does that the more it’s gonna favor me to get that win.”
Gonzalez did not shy away from the controversy of missing weight against an opponent who came up in weight to face him last time.
“A lot of it has to do with preparation. If you’re not doing everything properly, or you are but you’re pushing yourself hard, your immune system is going to drop. I did get a little sick before the (Brandon Girtz) fight, I did bring it up to them, he manned up and took the fight with me and did me the favor. Honestly, he didn’t have to take the fight after that.”
That’s not even an issue this time as Gonzalez revealed something new about the Ward fight.
“Actually, on this one it’s a Catchweight. They asked for a Catchweight when we signed the contract, it’s at 178, so I don’t see weight being an issue right now for this one. When you’re cutting that much weight, it’s almost better not to constantly cut. If it’s not for a title shot I really would prefer to do catch weights until I get that title shot and I know I gotta make the weight. Any time you’re cutting weight your metabolism slows down so it makes it that much harder to do it.”
The only weight he’ll feel now is the pressure to succeed after getting favorable terms for a second fight. Tune in to see if Gonzalez delivers.
Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of “Koreshkov vs. Njokuani” resides here at MMA Mania all week long.
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