More than three years have passed since Andrey Koreshkov turned in the worst performance of his professional mixed martial arts career. He was in the cage against then-Bellator MMA welterweight champion Ben Askren at Bellator 97, yielding to fourth-round punches from the four-time NCAA All-American wrestler. It remains the only blemish on Koreskhov’s resume.
While the defeat to Askren still eats at him, Koreskhov admits it has made him a better fighter. He has since won six fights in a row, claiming the welterweight belt Askren vacated when he bolted for One Championship in 2013. A far wider audience was alerted to Koreskhov’s presence at Bellator 153 on April 22, when he squared off with former World Extreme Cagefighting and Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder Benson Henderson.
Attempting to become the first fighter to ever win titles in Bellator, the WEC and the UFC, Henderson entered his organizational debut as the favorite. Koreskhov pounded on the MMA Lab standout for five rounds to earn a lopsided unanimous decision at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, as he successfully defended his welterweight crown for the first time. Never before had “Smooth” been so thoroughly dominated. Casual fans were forced to take notice.
“Yes, I think more people knew my name and who I was after that fight,” Koreshkov told Sherdog.com, “but those things don’t bother me. I know what I can do and how good I am, and I will just continue to get better. I just want to fight and defend my title, and the more I fight and win, the more people will know my name. It is a natural thing.”
Koreshkov struck gold in July 2015, when he took a unanimous decision from Douglas Lima and captured the welterweight championship at Bellator 140. The two men will meet again in the Bellator 164 main event on Thursday (current odds) at Menora Mivtachim Arena in Tel Aviv, Isreal. Koreskhov has no plans to cede his throne to the Brazilian.
“I have trained too hard to give it away to someone who is not as hungry or determined as me,” he said. “Douglas is a talented fighter, but this fight will have the same outcome as before when I beat him for the championship.”
Lima rebounded from his loss to Koreskhov at Bellator 158 in July, when he was awarded a unanimous verdict over Paul Daley. He had been out of action for more than a year with a knee injury the first time he faced the Russian. Anchored at an American Top Team affiliate in Atlanta, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has made it clear that he believes he would have beaten Koreshkov had he been operating at full strength. The champion scoffs at the notion.
“That is just an excuse,” said Koreskhov, an Alexander Shlemenko protégé who has delivered 13 of his 19 victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission. “Douglas is a very good fighter, but he took that fight. He fought for five rounds, and if he was so injured, he wouldn’t have lasted. I think I just had a much better game plan going in, and I executed my game plan better than he did. He was injured before he fought me, yes, but this injury was not why I beat him; he is tricking himself. I will do the same thing to him this time and there will be no excuse making.”
The Koreshkov-Lima rematch will serve as the centerpiece for a historic event, as it marks the first time a major MMA promotion has visited Israel. The opportunity was not lost on Koreskhov, who has had just one fight outside the United States and his native Russia.
“I am so excited to be going to Israel,” he said. “It is not too far from Russia so many of my fans and family will be able to fly and see me fight, but to headline this [card] means a lot to me. I have never been to Israel so I’ll be able to see a country for the first time; and when I defend my title against Douglas and beat him again, I will be able to really enjoy the city and its historic places. It is win-win for me.”