Alexander Volkov of Stary Oskol, Russia, became the second fighter from the city of 220,000 people to become recognized as a world mixed martial arts champion.
The 24-year-old Volkov (19-3) followed in the footsteps of former training partner, former Pride champion Fedor Emelianenko. Volkov became Bellator's new world heavyweight champion, winning a five-round decision over Richard Hale (21-5-1) in a lackluster tournament final on Friday night from the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind.
The match was fought mostly standing, with the 6-foot-7 Volkov able to establish enough of a left jab and keep the fight at a distance that favored him in winning the last four rounds in a fight where he really didn't establish any superiority until the fourth round.
"Please, somebody pinch me, because I think it's a dream," said Volkov through an interpreter after having the championship belt put around his waist. "It's a great honor and a great responsibility."
Volkov, who broke the ribs and won a decision over tournament favorite Brett Rogers in the first round of the tournament on Oct. 5 in the same building, won $100,000 by winning three fights in the last three months to take the vacant title. The tournament was originally to determine the next title contender, but when champion Cole Konrad announced his retirement, the belt itself was put at stake.
Volkov won 49-46 on all three judges' scorecards. Hale won the first round through landing a right hook that momentarily knocked Volkov down late in the round, the most significant blow of the fight. The second and third rounds were razor thin with Volkov's jab game and one takedown giving him the second. The third was even closer, with neither man having any significant offense and few punches thrown.
The crowd appeared restless, booing somewhat in the final rounds as Hale couldn't get any offense going.
The match climaxed a strange night as two other tournament finals that at one point were earmarked for the show both fell apart. The featherweight tournament final between Shahbulat Shamhalaev and Rad Martinez, scheduled for Dec. 7 in Atlantic City, N.J., was at one point moved to this show after the New Jersey Athletic Control Board would not allow Shamhalaev to fight due to food poisoning. However, Martinez, as the caretaker for a paraplegic father, had nobody to care for him this week and thus couldn't fight, as was announced by Bellator on Tuesday. The match will now take place early next year.
Even stranger was the lightweight tournament, which came down to Marcin Held, a leg submission expert from Poland, and American Dave Jansen, was weighed in Thursday and seemingly ready to go. The fight was then canceled by the local commission because Held was only 20 years old, and to fight in a casino arena in Indiana, the minimum age is 21. That fight is now also scheduled for early next year.
In other fights, the American debut of Norway's heavily-touted middleweight Jack Hermansson (5-1) was spoiled, as he was taken down several times by American wrestler Daniel Vizcaya (6-3) in losing a split decision on scores of 28-29, 29-28 and 29-28. Vizcaya won the first round close and the second round solidly, Hermansson came back in the third round to dominate, but was unable to put the protege of former Japanese MMA star Joaquin Hansen away.
In a women's fight at 118 pounds, Felice Herrig (8-4), a ranked bantamweight Muay Thai specialist, dominated the game both on the feet and on the ground to win a 30-27 decision over late replacement Patricia Vidonic (7-4). Herrig, from nearby Buffalo Grove, Ill., had beaten Vidonic on April 13 in similar fashion.
The television opener saw Louis Taylor (8-3) win a middleweight fight over Joe Vedepo (14-6) at 4:12 of the first round with a punch from inside Vedepo's guard.