Bellator fighters are unfairly denigrated by many MMA fans. Though the line of thinking has been disproven on numerous occasions, many contend that fighters outside of the UFC are automatically inferior to those who aren’t. Regardless of one’s stance on the topic, fight promotions outside of the UFC must at least be considered ancillary factors to the most stringent of critics. Let’s review some of the many talented fighters on the Bellator roster.
Bellator Fighters to Watch
Vadim Nemkov has many traits on paper that make him a compelling figure in the mixed martial arts world. For starters, he’s a Combat Sambo specialist and a protégé of Fedor Emelianenko. One month before his 28th birthday, Nemkov is scheduled to take on Bellator heavyweight and light-heavyweight champion Ryan Bader. The bout will be contested at 205 pounds and is ostensibly Bader’s toughest fight under the Bellator banner. Nemkov is a three-time national and 2014 world Combat Sambo champion. He is 4-0 with Bellator—three of those wins coming against former champions. Nemkov may not be the biggest name in the sport, but he is a dangerous competitor. Should his May 9th title bid be successful, expect his name recognition to explode in his home nation of Russia.
Austin Vanderford is an undefeated mixed martial artist. Including his amateur MMA record, Vanderford is 13-0, with nine of those victories coming via finish. Vanderford has an extensive wrestling background that dates back to his early childhood. This experience has quite clearly benefitted his fighting career.
Whenever Vanderford competed on The Contender Series, he faced a well-hyped Team Alpha Male product in Angelo Trevino. Though he faced adversity, Vanderford defeated Trevino via second-round submission. The fight was entertaining, and the finish was impressive—two punch-list items that often earn competitors contracts with the UFC. However, Vanderford functioned as an oval peg going into a round hole. He looked like he should fit in, but once the moment of truth came, he somehow didn’t. Lucky for Vanderford, Bellator was more than happy to sign him. Since joining Bellator, Vanderford has gone 3-0 with the promotion.
Kevin Lee is one of the top lightweights in the UFC. He’s also a former interim title challenger and quite outspoken on the mic. What many don’t know is that Kevin Lee has a 23-year-old brother who also competes in MMA. Keith Lee made his Bellator debut in the promotion’s bantamweight division. He successfully defeated nine-fight Bellator veteran, Shawn Bunch via unanimous decision. Bunch had his moments in the bout, but Lee defeated him convincingly. Including his amateur record, Lee is 10-3 overall as a mixed martial artist–six of his wins coming via finish. As one of the younger names on this list, time is clearly on Lee’s side. If Kevin Lee’s talent is of any indication, Keith Lee is a prospect worth keeping a close eye on.
The 170-pound division is arguably Bellator’s most stacked. Though he isn’t the most salient talent in the division, Yaroslav Amosov is proving to be a top Bellator welterweight at 26-years-old. The Ukrainian ‘Dynamo’ is undefeated at 23-0. Amosov is 4-0 with Bellator and holds wins over Gerald Harris, Erick Silva, David Rickels, and most recently, Ed Ruth. Amosov was able to effectively stifle takedown attempts from the three-time NCAA Division 1 National Champion. He even earned his own takedown on Ruth in the third round. If he can continue winning, expect Amosov to earn a title shot sooner rather than later.
Another interesting Bellator fighter out of Russia goes by the name of Anatoly Tokov. 5-0 in Bellator and 29-3 overall, Tokov is one of the more experienced Bellator middleweights. With 22 of his 29 wins coming via finish, Tokov brings consistent excitement into his fights. His only Bellator decision was against former Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko. For those of you who forgot, Shlemenko was Gegard Mousasi’s opponent in his Bellator debut. When the fight took place, many fans and professional fighters alike felt that Shlemenko defeated Mousasi. Though the results were debatable, the fact that Shlemenko broke Mousasi’s orbital bone was not. Anatoly Tokov defeated Alexander Shlemenko via unanimous decision, with 30-27 on all three judges’ scorecards.
Tokov’s next fight is supposed to be against 17-1 Bellator debutant, Fabio Aguiar. It’s currently postponed due to the widespread Corona Virus, but the bout is expected to be re-booked whenever possible. Should Tokov get past Aguiar, he will be 6-0 with Bellator.
Ricky Bandejas went 7-1 as an amateur and is currently 13-3 as a professional. Of his 14 finishes, Bandejas is probably best known for cleaning James Gallagher’s clock back at Bellator 204. At the time, Gallagher was 4-0 with Bellator, and undefeated overall. Training out of SBG Ireland alongside Conor McGregor, many likened Gallagher’s brand of trash-talking to that of his ubiquitous teammate.
Gallagher heaped bombastic verbal warfare upon Bandejas from the fight lead-up, till the moment the referee said ‘go’. Two minutes and 46 seconds into the first round, Gallagher was laying on the canvas while Ricky Bandejas was screaming at him from above. Bandejas finished a much talked about prospect in his Bellator debut. In the fight-ending flurry, Bandejas landed a side-kick to Gallagher’s face that can only be described as jarring and painful looking. Though he went on to lose against two top Bellator bantamweights, Bandejas is currently riding a two-fight winning streak, with just as many finishes.
As talented as Ricky Bandejas is, Patchy Mix has proven to be even more formidable. Mix fought Bandejas at Bellator 222 and submitted him in about a minute. The only other Bellator fighter to beat Bandejas was the 24-2 title challenger, Juan Archuleta. But even Archuleta went the full three rounds with Bandejas. Meanwhile, Mix is undefeated at 13-0 (24-0 if you include his amateur career) and he has an 85% finishing rate.
In addition to those already mentioned, there’s also AJ McKee, Logan Storley, Vitaly Minakov, Aaron Pico, Adam Borics, and plenty of other fighters to consider. Many competitors in varying promotions have successfully made the jump over to the UFC. Some of them have even become champions. Though we are currently living in uncertain times, we have many fun events to look forward to. Keep an eye out for the names mentioned in this article. You won’t be disappointed.