Alexander Shlemenko & the confidence of 1,000 fights

Elias Cepeda
Alexander Shlemenko, Bobby Lashley Score Impressive Wins at Bellator 162
Alexander Shlemenko, Bobby Lashley Score Impressive Wins at Bellator 162

When a man as young as 29 year-old Alexander Shlemenko has the leathered mug of a much-older man, there's a good chance he's been in a good amount of fights. The Russian "Storm" has 57 professional bouts in his ten-year career.

You fight that many times and you'll not only learn a great deal about yourself, you'll have the the dents to show for it all. His pro career is just the tip of the iceberg for Shlemenko, however, as the fighter tells Cagewriter that he had over one thousand amateur fights.

We asked him again, through his manager and interpreter Alexi, and Shlemenko confirmed the figure, saying that he fought almost every week. Over a thousand amateur fights.

Suffice to say, when Shlemenko tells us about how he "loves" MMA, we tend to believe him. As a matter of fact, Shlemenko's next opponent - Tito Ortiz - was a bit part of why the Bellator middleweight champion first fell in love with the sport.

"From the first time I watched video tape of MMA, I fell in love," he says.

"Back then, I wasn't even thinking that someday we would compete...I know Tito really well. I've been following him his whole career."

We were initially less convinced that Shlemenko fighting the former UFC light heavyweight champ was the Russian's idea, and not a convenient put-up by his Bellator bosses, however. Yet, Shlemenko insists that the novelty fight was his idea.

"No. it was my initiative, my desire," he maintains.

Shlemenko called Ortiz out on Twitter, Ortiz replied and Bellator quickly put the fight together for the promotion's first pay per view event, taking place May 17. Shlemenko will go up in weight to take on the MMA legend.

"I heard Tito wanted to fight on the pay per view, so I said 'why not? I can fight him.'

"I want to show everybody that I can do well, even at a heavier weight so I can potentially fight more at a heavier weight."

Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney has often talked about how Shlemenko is a small middleweight and should fight at welterweight but the fighter himself pretty much denies it. "I don't think so," he says.

"I'd have to starve myself. More than anything, I don't see the reason for it."

Indeed, Shlemenko has dominated the middleweight Bellator ranks, undersized or not. He's now dead set on demonstrating that he can also be successful at light heavyweight.

Whether it is the language barrier, his confidence, or both, Shlemenko is - lastly - pretty succinct in breaking down the matchup between he and Ortiz. It is telling that the Russian won't reveal too much about how he thinks he'll beat Ortiz, but rather chooses to suggest that he's a bad matchup for everyone.

Ortiz has lost multiple bouts in recent years due to body shots. Shlemenko has a penchant for finishing opponents with body strikes.

Does the young champ see "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" as particularly succeptible to gut shots, and will he target the body? Well, not exactly.

"I think it's not just Tito who is vulnerable to body shots," he says.

"A lot of people are vulnerable to body shots. Tito will probably be expecting me to go to the body so, I'll have to do other things as well."

Follow Elias on Twitter @EliasCepeda & @YahooCagewriter

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