Sergei Kharitonov’s decision to join the ranks of the Bellator MMA organization can be whittled down to one word: freedom.
“I am working with Bellator because this organization does not require exclusiveness from me, unlike, for example, the UFC,” Kharitonov told Sherdog.com. “Bellator saw my fights in other organizations in a positive light. I have to get approval for all my performances ‘on the side,’ but so far, there hasn’t been even one time where Bellator didn’t allow me to participate in an event.”
For now, Kharitonov’s Bellator debut remains on hold. He was scheduled to face Josh Appelt at Bellator 154 in May but withdrew because of illness. Kharitonov was later diagnosed with the flu, according to his representatives. The 35-year-old Pride Fighting Championships veteran had spent time preparing in Thailand, where he worked out with boxing champion Alexander Povetkin, and in Los Angeles, where he sharpened his skills at Freddy Roach’s Wild Card Boxing. He also paid a visit to the Rafael Cordeiro-led Kings MMA camp in Huntington Beach, California, linking arms with former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight titleholder and onetime opponent Fabricio Werdum.
Though Kharitonov beat Werdum by split decision at Pride 30 in 2005, the two remain cordial.
“He’s a great guy,” Kharitonov said. “He’s very kind and helpful -- and absolutely sensible.”
A semifinalist in the 2004 Pride heavyweight grand prix and the 2011 Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix, Kharitonov adheres to a strict training regimen that can begin as early as 7 a.m.
“The main element of it is a 10- to 15-kilometer jog,” he said. “After that, there are static exercises and stretching. Morning training lasts from 10 or 10:30 until 12:30 or 1. It’s usually sparring, circuit training or working out on sports equipment. Evening training starts at 7:30 or 8 and lasts for two hours. It usually consists of working out on sports equipment and sparring but depends on the stage of preparation I’m in for a particular fight.
“I have to admit that the decision to take long jogs daily was not an easy one,” Kharitonov added. “We came to it with my coach, realizing that it’s essential to the efficient preparation for fights. It was very hard the first few months, but then I got used to it. We just returned from Thailand, where I ran on the sand along the beach. It wasn’t easy. We started with 10 kilometers and added 500 meters every day. Eventually, we reached 20 kilometers a day -- 10 there and 10 back.”
Kharitonov has not competed in nearly a year but finds himself on a five-fight winning streak following back-to-back victories over Kenny Garner in M-1 Global. He has not lost since succumbing to a Josh Barnett arm-triangle choke in September 2011. When Kharitonov does make his Bellator debut, he will enter a heavyweight division filled with uncertainty. Vitaly Minakov was recently stripped of his championship over an ongoing contract dispute with the organization.
“Frankly, I hardly know the fighters in Bellator’s heavyweight division,” Kharitonov said. “According to my contract with Bellator, I have to fight any opponent offered to me. I have no fear or hesitation about this. I’m ready to cope with any opponent now. I’ve accumulated great experience, and I’ve reached my peak form.”
The fact that Bellator has opened a kickboxing branch also intrigues Kharitonov.
“Everything depends on the particular proposal,” he said. “I don’t chase after titles and belts. Of course, in any organization a fighter wants to be champion, but I think this should come gradually. If I have the opportunity to be in a championship fight, either in MMA or kickboxing, I will take it with pleasure.”
Kharitonov’s goals remain simple, even with wins over Werdum, Andrei Arlovski, Pedro Rizzo, Semmy Schilt and Alistair Overeem on his resume.
“I want to fight the strongest fighters and participate in the most outstanding events,” he said. “I would like a rematch with Werdum, but we’re in different organizations now so there’s nothing to speak about presently.”
Kharitonov in recent interviews has spoken of a perceived UFC bias against Russian fighters and doubled down on the idea when pressed.
“Have any Russian fighters received a chance at a UFC belt? Do you know any? Many Russian sportsmen could have at least tried by now,” he said. “Let’s take for example Khabib Nurmagomedov, who has been fighting in the UFC for four years and still has not had a single defeat. He could have become a champion long ago, but apparently that’s not exactly what the organizers want. I can only assume politics are at play here. I’ve seen his fights, and he’s really good. I’m sure he’ll achieve his goal and become a UFC champion.”
Kharitonov turns 36 in August but believes he has plenty of good years in front of him.
“We’ll see,” he said. “I don’t want to guess about the future, but so far, I feel good; and I’m ready to fight.”