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Bellator 288 Main Event Breakdown

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There’s still more championship MMA to come on Friday night. Not only will Cage Fury award its welterweight championship in the CFFC 115 main event and ONE Championship crown its own welterweight champion on Amazon Prime Video, Bellator MMA will finally settle its Light Heavyweight Grand Prix with the Bellator 288 main event.

Live coverage of Bellator 288 begins on the promotion’s YouTube channel at 6 pm ET/ 3 pm PT Friday evening with the undercard. Main card action follows at 9 pm ET/ 6 pm PT on the Showtime premium cable network. In total, Bellator 288 features 13 fights from Chicago’s Wintrust Arena.

Light Heavyweight Grand Prix Closes With Bellator 288 Main Event

Highlighting the night’s itinerary is the rematch seven months and three days in the making when the Light Heavyweight Grand Prix Final is run back in the main event of the evening. Incumbent champion Vadim Nemkov (15-2, 1 NC MMA, 7-0, 1 NC Bellator) meets No. 1 contender Corey Anderson (16-5, 1 NC MMA, 3-0, 1 NC Bellator.)

As with all Bellator main events, Friday’s headliner will be a maximum of five rounds at five minutes per round. At stake: Nemkov’s light heavyweight belt and a cash prize of $1 million (USD).

Accidental Clash of Heads Prompts Rematch

Seven months ago on Tax Day, Nemkov and Anderson were booked to meet during the Bellator 277 co-main event. That night, the latter appeared to be en route to the championship and the jackpot.

With seven seconds remaining on the clock in the third round of a scheduled five, however, Anderson, who landed ground and pound shots from the top mount, inadvertently headbutted Nemkov, resulting in a cut above the latter’s eye.

Upon the fight doctor’s evaluation of Nemkov’s cut, he could not resume the fight, resulting in the fight going into the books as a no-contest just shy of the fourth round. By rule, a championship fight has to progress to the fourth round for the judges to score it on a technical decision in the event of an accidental foul.

With the result on April 15, Vadim Nemkov remained the champion and the winner of the tournament would have to be crowned on another evening. Friday, the resolution seven months in the making will come.

Bellator 288 Main Event Fighter Comparison and Betting Odds

Heading into the Bellator 288 main event on Friday night, Corey Anderson stands as the taller combatant at 6-foot-3, compared to Vadim Nemkov’s frame of six feet even. In addition, the latter owns a 1 1/2-inch reach advantage over the former.

As it stands currently, the oddsmakers have Corey Anderson installed as a -230 favorite for Friday night, with Vadim Nemkov a +190 underdog. If you plan on betting on this or any other fight throughout the weekend, please wager responsibly.

Vadim Nemkov Ready For the Rematch

Vadim Nemkov enters the rematch on Friday night having gone 4-0 with one no-contest in his last five Bellator appearances. Back in October of last year, he scored a fourth-round kimura submission over Julius Anglickas (10-3 MMA, 3-2 Bellator) in the Bellator 268 main event.

Seven months removed from the no-contest, the champion spoke to the press on Wednesday afternoon, where he revealed that he was tired the first time around.

“There were some factors in the first fight that attributed to my decline,” Nemkov began, through his translator. “Because I started out pretty well in the first round actually on the scorecards, I think it was even going into the third round. Then the decline happened and it’s largely because my camp was very long. The date (of the fight) kept changing, and I just kept staying in this peak shape. I feel like I peaked before the fight date, so on the fight date, I was kind of already exhausted,”

With the champion now rested, can he win the tournament on Friday in the Bellator 288 main event? Watch to find out.

Corey Anderson Only Wants the Championship

In the other corner, Corey Anderson has posted a record of 3-1 with one no-contest in his last five fights. On Oct. 16, 2021, the former UFC competitor knocked out Ryan Bader (30-7, 1 NC MMA, 8-2, 1 NC Bellator) in the first round with an overhand right punch followed by ground and pound.

The challenger views the $1 million in prize money as tertiary, something he revealed in a Zoom call with The New York Post’s Scott Fontana.

“Recognition and being a champion. That’s it. That’s all I ever came for,” Anderson said. “Before I left the UFC, I sat down with those guys and told them, ‘I don’t care about earning money. I don’t care about being exciting to get more money. I just want to get the belt. I’ve earned my shot at the belt. Let me get that; that’s all I want. ‘Oh, we can’t wait until you get more exciting. We’re going to get more viewers and stuff.’ I don’t care about the viewers. I don’t care about fame.”

It’s clear that Corey Anderson only has one goal, that of becoming the champion. Will he leave Chicago with the title?

Analysis, Film Study, and Prediction

Stylistically, the Bellator 288 main event looks to favor Vadim Nemkov, a decorated combat Sambo fighter with six gold medals to his credit, compared to Corey Anderson’s purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and his background as a former collegiate wrestler.

Nemkov’s Punching Could Tell the Tale

Vadim Nemkov has been known to close the show by landing serious punches, as had happened in August of 2020 against Ryan Bader. During the second round of this title fight, Nemkov, who banked round one, absorbed some punches from Bader, yet stunned him moments later.

Upon a stoppage due to an eye poke, the fighters exchanged punches, yet Nemkov was the quicker of the two men, eventually dropping Bader with a head kick. From there, he landed a barrage of ground and pound shots.

Despite Bader returning to his feet, enough damage had already been accumulated by the time Nemkov landed the fight’s last punches for the referee to call off the bout. If Vadim Nemkov is able to drop Corey Anderson with a kick, look for him to pour it on with ground and pound shots.

Corey Anderson Has Vicious Elbows

In the other corner, Corey Anderson’s already let Vadim Nemkov know about his nasty elbow strikes, but Melvin Manhoef has also been on the receiving end of his elbows in the past. During the second round of three in the Bellator 251 main event in November of 2020, Anderson, who had outpaced Manhoef in strikes landed by a 38-1 margin in round one, only continued his onslaught by throwing feints to keep Manhoef honest.

Upon getting Manhoef in the clinch, he took him down and poured it on with heavy ground and pound shots from his elbows. Manhoef stayed on the bottom of the exchange and had no opportunity to rise to his feet.

Anderson continued to land relentless elbows until the referee had seen enough. If Corey Anderson is able to take Vadim Nemkov down, look for him to go to work with elbow shots.

Final Thoughts

Even though the Bellator 288 main event is the final for the light heavyweight tournament, with these two fighters, the one constant for heavyweight fights could ring true here: As little as one big punch could end it.

This should be a good fight. Don’t miss it.

Prediction: Corey Anderson by First-Round TKO.

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Drew Zuhosky has been writing about MMA since the spring of 2018. A graduate of Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, Drew enjoys a good game and an even better fight. When he's not writing, you can find him playing video games and listening to music.