Alexander Shlemenko, Bellator’s badass Russian middleweight, steps into his semifinal matchup against Brian Rogers on Saturday night with an advantage: he’s been here before. In fact, it was Shlemenko who won the Season Two 185-pound scrum, with the victory earning him a shot at champ Hector Lombard. And though the man with more spinning backfists than a Tae Kwon Do tournament fell short in his efforts to dethrone the king last year, he did end up going the full five-round distance, proving his mettle and establishing himself to be the kind of contender who’ll keep coming no matter what.
So who is this soft-spoken Russian? MMA Convert got in touch with Shlemenko a few days before his Bellator 54 bout for some insight, and with the help of a translator, pinned him down for a little “Q” and “A”.
You’ve fought all over the world for a variety of promotions. How do you like fighting in the United States and for Bellator?
I really enjoy fighting for Bellator. It’s a good chance to showcase my skills to the American public. It would be even better if there would be bonuses for KO of the night, submission of the night, or fight of the night, because I believe I would have a good chance of getting these bonuses.
How is it fighting in Russia compared to fighting in the US? Do the audiences treat you differently?
There is a big difference in audiences. In Russia I fight at home. And in any country people are rooting for their countrymen. So I get tremendous support from the public when I fight in Russia. Another important issue is acclimatization. I have to come to the US at least two weeks before my fight to acclimate. And it is a known fact that today the US is the world center of MMA. It’s a big industry here, and because of that all top fighters are fighting in the US, so competition is very high over here.
You have a very unique striking style that employs colorful but effective techniques. You also looked smooth submitting Zelg Galesic. How much do you train striking compared to grappling?
I pay more attention and devote more time to grappling, because it used to be my weak point.
You’re facing Brian Rogers on Saturday, while Bryan Baker and Vitor Vianna are facing each other. Who do you think will win between Baker and Vianna?
I think Brian Baker will win, because he has more experience fighting strong opponents.
You had a hard fight against Hector Lombard that went the distance. If you get the chance to do it again, what would you like to do differently?
It will be a completely different fight. I’ve been practicing takedown defense, standing up from the ground a lot, I’m much stronger physically now than I was when we fought. So I’ll be able to defend his takedowns, he won’t be able to stall on the ground, and I would be able to beat him up and KO him standing.
Was Lombard your most difficult opponent?
Yes, Lombard was my most difficult opponent, because he was the most experienced, explosive and strongest fighter. I also consider Lombard to be one of the best, if not the best, middleweights in the world right now.
If you win this Bellator tournament and defeat Lombard, what’s next? What would you like to accomplish in mixed martial arts after that?
I don’t know who’ll be next, it’s a question for Bellator. Whoever they would put in front of me. But my main goal is to become the best middleweight fighter in the world.
You’ve been fighting since 2004 and you’ve had numerous wars – how many more fights does Alexander Shlemenko have in him?
A lot. I think that I just started my professional career on a serious level one year ago, when I started to fight in the US for Bellator. I still have a lot of work to do to improve myself, and become a better fighter, so I think my most tough and exciting fights are ahead of me.