Prior to every event, Under the Radar will cast the spotlight on an up-and-coming talent who shows the potential for growth in their division and isn’t getting enough attention as they head into battle.
- Name: Vadim Nemkov
- Record:9-2 overall, 2-0 Bellator MMA
- Division: Light Heavyweight
- Team: Alexander Nevsky (Stary Oskol)
There was a minute there a year or two where Bellator MMA’s light heavyweight division really felt like it was gathering momentum.
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Phil Davis had come over from the UFC and quickly risen to the top of the weight class, only to give way to fellow UFC ex-pat Ryan Bader, while stalwarts and steady hands like Linton Vassel, Liam McGeary, and Muhammad Lawal gave the division a compelling Top 5.
But over the last year or so, the light heavyweight ranks have taken a back seat as the focus has shifted to the Heavyweight Grand Prix, promotional newcomers like Gegard Mousasi and exciting, young talents like A.J. McKee and Aaron Pico.
Along the way, the arrival and ascension of 26-year-old Sambo world champion Vadim Nemkov kind of got lost in the shuffle.
In his first two appearances inside the Bellator cage, the compact Russian light heavyweight has registered a pair of technical knockout victories — first stopping current PFL heavyweight finalist Philipe Lins and then chopping down former champ Liam McGeary. That performance, which took place in February at Bellator 194, was overshadowed by Matt Mitrione’s tournament win over Roy Nelson, Patricky Freire knocking out Derek Campos and Heather Hardy’s return to the cage.
But it shouldn’t be forgotten.
While not as memorable as a thrilling knockout, there is something special about earning a stoppage due to leg kicks because outside of a clear and obvious injury to your opponent, it takes a lot to make another competitor unable to continue because they simply cannot stand anymore.
Think about it: we see leg kicks thrown in most fights and while some competitors use it as a central part of their approach, very few ever commit to them as their base strategy; that is, it’s not often that someone enters the cage thinking, “I’m going to win this fight by kicking them in the leg so many times that they’re unable to stand.”
It takes a certain amount of commitment to reach that point, combined with in-fight adjustments to recognize the impact those blows are having and continue going back to the well again and again and again.
That’s what Nemkov did to McGeary in February.
Those leg kicks from Vadim Nemkov are brutal!!! #Bellator194 pic.twitter.com/TJxD6AKp1Z
— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) February 18, 2018
Fighting out of the Alexander Nevsky gym in Stary Oskol alongside the legendary Fedor Emelianenko and fellow Bellator 209 competitor Kiril Sidilnekov, the 26-year-old Nemkov carries a four-fight winning streak into this week’s showdown with Phil Davis in Tel Aviv, Israel.
While battering McGeary’s leg until he was unable to compete may have slid by somewhat unnoticed — or at least without having the lasting impression such a performance rightfully deserves — posting a victory over Davis would send shockwaves through the division.
“Mr. Wonderful” has gone 6-1 in the Bellator cage and rebounded from his close title loss to Bader with back-to-back victories over Leo Leite and Linton Vassel to cement his standing as the top contender in the 205-pound ranks. Over the course of his career, the Penn State product and four-time All-American wrestler has only lost four times to three men — Bader (twice), Anthony Johnson and Rashad Evans.
If Nemkov can join that illustrious group by earning his fifth straight victory and third consecutive win inside the Bellator cage Thursday in Tel Aviv, he’ll position himself as the No. 1 contender for the light heavyweight title and, in theory, set himself up for a showdown with Bader at some point in 2019.
Although Davis is undoubtedly the “A Side” in this matchup, viewing Nemkov as another other than a live dog with legitimate potential to up-end the former collegiate wrestling National champion is a gross under-estimation of his talents. Built like a fire hydrant and boasting a truly world-class Sambo pedigree, Nemkov has the potential to give Davis all he can handle and end the year by turning back former champions in back-to-back appearances.
He may be somewhat unheralded now, but if he does to Davis what he did to McGeary or Lins, people will be rushing to find out more about the “Team Fedor” fighter and rising light heavyweight contender.