Andrey Koreshkov

Koreshkov

There will be fireworks at Bellator 182.

Former Bellator Welterweight champion and two-time Bellator tournament winner Andrey Koreshkov won’t settle for anything less.

A bullish ‘Spartan’ spoke to The MMA Vanguard in an exclusive interview late last week, and made his intentions crystal clear regarding his upcoming main event fight from Verona, New York: “I just want to stand and bang with him. I’m going to stand and bang, and whoever takes the first punch, loses,” he said, allowing himself a sort of steely laugh at the prospect. Gallows humour, perhaps?

A two-time world champion in Pankration, the Storm Fight School exponent’s words will not be taken lightly by the folks over at Saekson Janjira Muay Thai, the team charged with preparing Chidi Njokuani for the biggest fight of his career.

A ten-year veteran, Njokuani is a fearsome Muay Thai practitioner boasting eleven finishes from seventeen career wins. Ten have come by TKO. That Koreshkov shows no hint of navigating an alternate course against such a proven foe in what should be a fascinating stand up battle says a lot about the measure of the Russian fighter. A four-fight tear through the Bellator 170 pound division, with names like Ricky Rainey, Thiago Goncalves, Andre Fialho, and Melvin Guillard all accounted for, is evidently not enough to dissuade Koreshkov from doing what Koreshkov does so well. Striking.

“The whole fight will be a stand up fight, it will be a stand up war,” Andrey declared. “And of course I’m ready to fight for all three rounds, I’m ready for that, but we’ll see how it goes.”

If that is the case, and these two do come out looking to abstract one another rather brutally from their senses, it would be far from a surprise if the fight ended inside the allotted time. That, too, would no doubt be fine with Koreshkov. Having said all that, Andrey is not one to make boastful predictions. No Mystic Mac-impersonation here. “It’s really difficult for me to make such predictions,” Andrey explained. “Every time I’m asked such questions [about how the fight will go], I really can’t say because it’s a fight, anything can happen.”

Koreshkov’s record backs up such statements. While he has secured no fewer than four first round TKO’s during his Bellator tenure, one of the promotion’s most successful welterweights is no stranger to coming up trumps on the judges scorecards either. With a record of six decision wins to zero losses, there has been only one way to thwart the surging Omsk native. Tantalizingly, perhaps, both Andrey’s losses under the Bellator banner have come by way of TKO…

That is no doubt the carrot that has been waved in front of Chidi Njokuani these past few weeks. If he can do what only Ben Askren and Douglas Lima have done before him, he’ll etch his name into the uppermost echelons of arguably Bellator’s most stacked division. And even if he can’t quite match that feat, a strong showing here will go some way to cementing his position as a key figure in the annals of that weight class.

Speaking of the aforementioned Douglas Lima, who captured the Bellator Welterweight title from Koreshkov in Israel in November of last year, the Brazilian remains somewhere near the top of the Russian’s hit list. We asked if that’s a fight he wanted should he successfully dispatch Njokuani. He responded: “Of course, I lost my last fight to Lima, and I want to avenge that. I need my belt back, so one hundred percent.”

What were Andrey’s learnings, then, from the defeat against Lima, a result that tied the pair at one victory apiece? Was something different from his win back in July 2015, did something affect the outcome this time round? “I don’t think that much changed between the first and the second fight,” Andrey says, rejecting that particular line of enquiry. “The main change was [that] in the second fight with Lima I allowed my emotions to take over, and I stopped following the game plan. I became way too creative inside the cage, and I was not supposed to do so. Before the moment where I took the punch, I was winning the fight because I was doing everything according to the plan. I should have stuck to the game plan, and I’d have won the second fight as well. But I didn’t do that, and that was my main mistake. Because of that, I didn’t see the punch coming and I lost that fight, and I lost my belt.”

Alongside the promise to ‘stand and bang’ with Chidi Njokuani, then, fans can expect Koreshkov to deliver the kind of performance his coaches, particularly fellow Bellator veteran Alexander Shlemenko, will have invested so much time preparing him for. After all, Chidi is far from an unknown quantity to the Russian and his team. “I [have] truly followed him,” Andrey told us, “I have attended Bellator events and I have seen three of his fights live. One was against Fialho, and [against Guillard] in his last fight, so of course I’ve known who he is, and I have followed him. I know what kind of fighter he is.”

Speaking of his camp back in his home city of Omsk at The Storm School, then, Koreshkov told The MMA Vanguard that: “Everything went really well, I feel great, and now me and my coach will return to the States to acclimate, and get used to the time difference.”

As for how involved Alexander was in his preparations, Koreshkov makes it clear that: “Shlemenko is my coach, he always helps me prepare for my fights. There were some other students from The Storm School and the gym that I belong to who helped me to prepare for this fight [as well].”

It is those figures, and that team, that Andrey holds in such high regard. They are the people that have got him to this point, to where he can count among his highest accolades a Bellator world championship belt and two successive tournament victories from the pre-Scott Coker days. Now, he seeks a second world title, and Chidi Njokuani is in his way. With the help of his coach, his manager, and his whole team, who he attributes his success to in what he describes as a “team sport,” Andrey Koreshkov is confident not only of a victory, but of an all-out war.

Do not miss it this Friday night at Bellator 182.

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Martina Mokhnatkina

Marina-Mokhnatkina

Crowned Sambo World Champion for a fourth time in Sofia, Bulgaria in 2016, one member of the Russian National Sambo team has, nevertheless, seemingly flown under the radar of MMA fans the world over prior to a pro debut in June last year. Despite dominating the opposition and becoming renowned by Sambo insiders for quick, decisive, often violent submission finishes, as well as having family ties to the sport of mixed martial arts, it was only when a 25-second armbar submission in a debut fight on a Fight Nights Global card occurred that heads were turned.

This was, clearly, an elite fighter with a elite-level skillset. Being wed to another Sambo World Champion and a member of the Russian National Sambo team only underlined their legitimacy. Her name? Marina Mokhnatkina.

The wife of Fight Night Global’s Mikhail Mokhnatkin, and mother to their son, one particular anecdote involving Marina sheds light on her true character – having won her fourth and most recent Sambo World title, Mokhnatkina burst into tears; not of joy, but of longing. Missing her son, who she had not seen for three weeks, Marina’s emotional response made her priorities in life clear. Family comes first; her otherworldly talent in the Sambo stakes a distant second.

Yet Marina Mokhnatkina could well find herself one of the most marketable female commodities in the world. In an age where some of the biggest stars in the sport are seemingly-superhuman females drawn largely from the United States, Brazil and Europe, there is an astonishing lack of participation from Russian nationals. Fight Nights Global, and Marina Mokhnatkina in particular, could put an end to that surprising dearth of notable superstars.

Her aforementioned blitz of kickboxer Ekaterina Torbeeva in 25 seconds was as perfect a start to her MMA career as could have been hoped for. Immediately taking the centre of the age, Mokhnatkina closed the distance, took hold of her opponent, and scored a takedown straight into mount. Two punches gave Torbeeva food for thought, as Mokhnatkina calmly manufactured a perfect set up for a devastating armbar submission.

It was as easy as that, and all in a division desperately seeking competition for the undeniable lead-Amazon, Cristiano ‘Cyborg’ Justino. While the 145 lb division may not have a future at present in the UFC, there will be plenty of organisations willing to pair up two world class female fighters at featherweight. This could be big news for anyone willing to offer the right kind of financial incentives to the right people.

Mokhnatkina’s sophomore outing, which took place in October of last year, saw her pitted against Karina Vasilenko. Vasilenko, a Judoka representing the Russian police force, looked to use movement to nullify the obvious threats from her elite Samboka opponent. Avoiding a front kick in the opening seconds, Vasilenko was able to use punches to keep distance, and even succeeded in unbalancing Mokhnatkina at around the 40 second mark. While Marina’s striking defence looked somewhat raw, she succeeded in landing a takedown at the first opportunity, only to find Vasilenko’s guillotine choke attempt a barrier to further success.

Riding out the storm, Mokhnatkina ate a couple of body shots, before a kneebar attempt had her opponent reeling. While Vasilenko was able to defend that particular hold, Mokhnatkina quickly adjusted to a heel hook attempt, and when even that failed, a straight leglock would prove sufficient.

Once on the ground, there was no doubt about Mokhnatkina’s superiority, the fight lasting a total of just 2:51. While Mokhnatkina displayed a couple of holes in her all-round game, this remained an impressive outing in only her second professional MMA bout. With work to do on her striking defence, Marina has some way to go before she can challenge the very best in the world, but with the right kind of guidance from her husband and their fight team at Sambo-Piter from St Petersburg, the world could yet be her oyster.

With grappling skills even elite NCAA Division I wrestlers would be proud of, this is one Russian who could prove an immeasurable trailblazer for Russian females trying to shine in a patriarchal national hierarchy. While WMMA and indeed women’s combat sports don’t yet garner enough recognition in Russia, that tide could yet turn.

The MMA Vanguard encourages fight fans to keep an eye out for this outstanding talent.