Bellator heavyweight champion Ryan Bader is busy competing in the company’s light heavyweight Grand Prix, meaning he’s unlikely to defend his title anytime soon. That situation has opened the door for Timothy Johnson and Valentin Moldavsky to compete for an interim heavyweight championship in the main event of Bellator 261 this Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.
Johnson ranks as the No. 1 contender in Bellator’s heavyweight division, with Moldavsky holding the No. 3 ranking.
Johnson relishing long-awaited title opportunity
The two are both coming off of significant wins. Johnson (15-6) defeated No. 2 contender Cheick Kongo by split decision last October in Paris. Meanwhile, Moldavsky (10-1) took a unanimous decision victory over Roy Nelson in August to win his fifth straight fight in Bellator.
Those results made these two men the clear choices for an interim heavyweight title fight. For Johnson, the opportunity represents a dramatic turnaround. He began his Bellator career with two first-round knockout losses. But three straight wins have put him back atop the rankings. Now, the 36-year-old former UFC fighter says he is grateful for a championship opportunity.
“It’s going to mean that all the hard work actually turned to something,” Johnson told MMA Junkie. “All the family events, friends’ events I missed, or sacrifices actually worked toward a goal – and it’s in front of you and you just have to seize it.”
Meanwhile, Moldavsky comes in hungry for his first professional MMA title. The 29-year-old Ukrainian sambo champion only has one loss, a split decision defeat to Amir Aliakbari in a Rizin Openweight Grand Prix.
Oddsmakers like Moldavsky’s chances on Friday. PointsBet has made him the -300 favorite for the fight over Johnson (+230). The Ukrainian has been acting as though he expects to win the championship.
“I feel good,” Moldavsky told MMA Junkie. “I’m a little nervous but I’m very confident.”
Winner may wait for shot at Bader
That confident extends to thinking ahead about future plans. Moldavsky criticized Bader for not defending the heavyweight title, saying that Bellator should strip Bader of the belt if he’s not going to fight in the division.
“It’s not frustrating, but if you can’t pick between divisions, just leave the belt and go do whatever you want,” Moldavsky said.
|Bellator 261 Odds (via PointsBet)|
|Timothy Johnson: +230||Valentin Moldavsky: -300|
|Liz Carmouche: -225||Kana Watanabe: +175|
|Daniel Weichel: +115||Keoni Diggs: -145|
|Myles Jury: +120||Sidney Outlaw: -150|
weMore likely, Bellator will book a fight between the holder of the interim title and Bader at some point in the future. This is the first time that the promotion has held an interim championship fight in its heavyweight division.
Also on Friday’s card, women’s flyweight No. 2 contender Liz Carmouche (15-7) will take on the undefeated Kana Watanabe (10-0-1) in the co-main event. Carmouche comes in as a -225 pick over Watanabe (+175), with the winner likely next in line to challenge Juliana Velasquez for the Bellator women’s flyweight title.