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Bellator champ Brandon Halsey big on the concept of evolution


Though it’s rare at the top levels, Brandon Halsey's one of those fighters to win a title before fully making a name for himself. Yet his 35-second submission finish of Alexander Shlemenko at Bellator 126 -- after winning the Season 10 middleweight tournament very quietly under the old Bellator structure -- was enough to raise a few eyebrows.

How far can the former collegiate wrestler at Cal State Bakersfield go in this sport? Into the history books, to hear him tell it.

"I want to leave a mark -- it’s not just about fighting, it’s leaving a mark on MMA," he told MMA Fighting. "[It’s about] people looking back on history and saying, ‘that guy kind of changed the sport, he evolved it to a different level.’ I kind of want to leave my mark on MMA and obviously be the best in the world."

In his first title defense at Bellator 137, Halsey will face UFC veteran Kendall Grove, who won The Ultimate Fighter 5. That fight will take place on May 15 at the Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, Calif., not far from where Halsey grew up in San Diego. He expects there to be over 100 of his friends in family in the crowd as he tries to run his record to 9-0.

Yet even though he only began competing in MMA in 2012, Halsey has the attitude of a fighter on the cusp of becoming something great. In talking to him, he uses the word "evolution" a lot to describe himself in both the present and future tense. Cocky? Well, it’s a fine line between that and confidence, but he doesn’t mind ruffling a few feathers along the way.

Check out Kendall Grove’s attitude towards Halsey heading into the fight. In a recent interview, Grove made some strong statements about Halsey, calling him a "piece of sh*t and accusing him of using PEDs. There’s also a burbling feud between him and Tito Ortiz going on, which he'd rather wait to unfold until they are booked to fight one another. 

"Obviously [Tito]’s a name and he’s been in this sport a long time," he said. "I think it would just be fun to mash his face. Does he get under my skin? No, nobody really gets under my skin, but that’s just a fighter I’d like to beat up."

As for Grove, Halsey looks at him as an obstacle to be gotten through -- somebody to be taken seriously, but not overly worry about.

"I never look past anybody, but there is a bigger picture," he said. "He is a UFC veteran, he’s a seasoned guy, but like I said, I’m a new evolution of fighting in MMA. I don’t see anything that Kendall Grove poses as a threat. I’m just going to run through him. He just happens to be the next guy in my way."

So far, it’s hard to knock the 28-year-old Halsey’s work in the cage. At a perfect 8-0 -- including finishes in three of his last four bouts -- Halsey’s transition from wrestling to cagefighting has been a smooth one. Yet he looked particularly good against Shlemenko on the night he won the belt.

In that fight, he shot in and scored a takedown, immediately took Shlemenko back, snatched his neck, and moments later dumped the Russian from his arms unconscious. It was a big performance in a big spot, and yet Halsey wasn’t overly sold on it.

"Obviously getting a victory and finishing somebody that quick is a good feeling, but I’m always looking for room to improve," he said. "I’m trying to become one of the best fighters in the world. This sport is evolving, and I’m one of those fighters…I feel like a new evolution of fighter in this sport where it’s just not your normal tough guy or bartender turned fighter. This is what I do for a living. This is my job."

Asked if he felt like he needed to defend the belt to truly feel like a champion, Halsey said that stuff just doesn't cross his mind.

"I try not to think about that," he said. "I do have the belt, but it’s one thing at a time. I just want to be the best fighter, and I want to fight the best guys. I want Bellator to challenge me and bring in some new fighters. Yes, Kendall Grove is a seasoned veteran, but I want to challenge myself."

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