Vadim Nemkov won his first major MMA title last August when he stopped Ryan Bader to win the Bellator light heavyweight title at Bellator 244. Now, he’ll make his first title defense in a rematch against Phil Davis, a man he beat by split decision back in 2018, in the main event of Bellator 257 on Friday night.
The bout between Nemkov and Davis also serves as a quarterfinal in the Bellator Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix Tournament, one of two fights in that tournament featured on Friday’s card.
Nemkov, Bader fought to split decision
Nemkov (12-2) pulled off a minor upset in August when he defeated Bader, who ranked among the top light heavyweights in the world in any promotion. Now, Nemkov carries the burden of being a champion and a headliner for Bellator.
“It’s no pressure on me at all,” Nemkov told MMA Junkie. “I know that I’m the champion. I know it, but I enter this tournament like a fighter, a hungry fighter. I know that I’m champion, but there isn’t pressure on me.”
Nemkov and Davis fought to a close decision back in 2018, with media and fan opinions sharply split on the fight. The Russian ultimately got the 29-28 decision on two of the three cards.
Nemkov comes in as the favorite in the rematch, but oddsmakers still expect a tough test. PointsBet lists Nemkov as the -210 pick over Davis (+165) in Friday’s fight.
|Bellator Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix Tournament Odds (via PointsBet)|
|Vadim Nemkov: +170|
|Ryan Bader: +300*|
|Yoel Romero: +330|
|Anthony Johnson: +600|
|Corey Anderson: +750|
|Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov: +900|
|Phil Davis: +1000|
Davis (22-5) once held the light heavyweight title for Bellator, beating Liam McGeary for the crown back in 2016. He also has previous tournament success, claiming a win in a light heavyweight Grand Prix in 2015 before losing it to Bader – again by split decision. Davis has suffered three split-decision losses in his career, and all five of his defeats have come via the judges’ scorecards.
Grand Prix takes center stage at Bellator 257
The 36-year-old veteran says he has no regrets over how he lost those fights, including his first encounter with Nemkov.
“I don’t care,” Davis told MMA Junkie. “For me to look back and think, ‘Oh, they should’ve gave that to me,’ that’s a waste of my time and my energy. I’ll never get better doing that. I’m all about getting better and winning fights, so why even calculate that into my existence? I’m good. Judges have a tough job. They said I didn’t win; I didn’t win.”
Easier said than done in the @BellatorMMA Light Heavyweight division 😤#BellatorOnShowtime pic.twitter.com/12YauqOnZ6
— SHOWTIME SPORTS (@SHOsports) April 15, 2021
The main event is one of two Light Heavyweight Grand Prix bouts on the Bellator 257 card. Corey Anderson (-175) will take on Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov (+140) in another quarterfinal, with the winner moving on to take on Bader in the semifinals.
Overall, Nemkov (+170) remains the favorite to win the Grand Prix tournament and hold on to his title. Bader (+300) ranks as his most likely challenger, with Yoel Romero (+330) also seen as a serious threat to take the crown. Davis (+1000), Anderson (+750), and Yagshimuradov (+900) all come in as long shots to win the Grand Prix.