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Sergei Kharitonov wants to remind you why he was -- and still is -- one of heavyweight's best

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Esther Lin, Strikeforce

Sergei Kharitonov doesn't like to dwell on the what ifs.

Once a ferocious world-ranked heavyweight, Kharitonov used to be one of the most feared big-men in mixed martial arts, a great bear of a man who bested Fabricio Werdum and knocked Andrei Arlovski out cold. But things changed a little over five years ago, when a dispute between Zuffa and Golden Glory resulted in a mass release of several Golden Glory fighters.

Kharitonov was caught in the unfortunate crossfire, and the dissolution of Strikeforce soon followed, leaving Kharitonov out in the cold while fellow Strikeforce heavyweights like Daniel Cormier and Josh Barnett made their high-profile transitions to the UFC. Many of those same heavyweights went on to achieve international fame and fortune in the Octagon, while Kharitonov was forced to watch as men he beat like Werdum and Alistair Overeem cemented their legacies, the native Russian instead stuck fighting unknowns in his homeland's regional circuit.

But at last, Kharitonov is back.

With a five-fight streak of stoppages in tow, he once again garnered interest from the big leagues earlier this year before ultimately deciding to sign with Bellator over the UFC. And now, just days out from his debut this Friday against Javy Ayala at Bellator 163, Kharitonov insists he is more motivated than ever before to prove that even at 36 years old, he is still a problem in the sport's ageless heavyweight division.

"I feel nervous, but at the same time, I feel a responsibility because of the fans here in the United State and all over the world who are going to see me," Kharitonov told MMA Fighting. "... They're used to exciting fights (from me), and they're so knowledgeable about MMA, so I feel this responsibility. I want this fight to be as exciting as possible, because I never have boring fights.

"This time that I had off, I had the chance to reflect on my career and change certain things in my training -- just mentally, to think about the career that I've had and change training a little bit, be smarter. I'm still motivated. I'm motivated to fight in Bellator, and from now on, I want to have four, maybe five fights a year. I want to be active, as active as possible."

Such a declaration is noteworthy if only because for Kharitonov, talent was never a question as much as activity and opportunity.

Since 2006, Kharitonov has averaged less than two fights a year. More than half of those years saw him fight only once. Yet somehow, due to the glacial speed at which the heavyweight division has evolved, Kharitonov's résumé still stands strong among his peers: three wins over top-10 ranked UFC fighters, two of those wins coming against men currently in the top-five.

With that in mind, it stands to reason that Kharitonov would've been right there in the title mix this entire time had he not been a casualty to the Golden Glory purge. But the big Russian is not one wallow in the past, and after spending much of his time away from the spotlight dabbling in kickboxing and opening a chain of sports clubs around his homeland, Kharitonov is satisfied with how his road in life has played out.

"It's a hard question for me," Kharitonov says. "I don't think about those things. I'm happy with what I have. I'm happy with the career that I've had, and I'm looking forward to this debut. I'm looking forward to having the best performance that I can have.

"People who watch my fights, they can make the decision where to put me in the rankings. I don't think it's my place to do that, and honestly, I don't think about that at all. I think if I perform well, if I have the performance that I want to have, I'm going to be up there. But it's not going to be me who puts myself in the rankings, it's going to be someone else."

Kharitonov says that when it came down to it, he chose Bellator over the UFC simply because Scott Coker's organization presented him with "a much better offer," one that he "didn't have to think twice" about after comparing the two options. He was also intrigued by the idea of being free to continue dabbling in kickboxing, just as many other Viacom fighters have done in under the Bellator Kickboxing umbrella.

All of his time away may have another unexpected side effect as well, as Kharitonov says his body actually feels spryer than it did when he was a young man, simply because of the utter lack of damage he has sustained over recent years.

Yet through his many travels in the fight game, Kharitonov admits that nothing will ever again come close to what he and his fellow heavyweights experienced in the heyday of Pride FC. That ethereal sense of spectacle and wonder is now a relic of a bygone era of mixed martial arts, and Kharitonov admits that he still often thinks about those memories as he readies for his North American return.

"It just was a different time, a different era," he says. "It didn't feel like it feels today. Today it feels like a normal thing, a regular thing. It's just different now. Before, it was all like a show. It's very hard to describe, but every time you'd go to Japan, it just was a very, very special feeling.

"I miss it very much. It's very hard to describe for me. It was just crazy times. Crazy times. When I was fighting, just to be surrounded by 50,000 to 80,000 people, it was just unbelievable. I cannot put it into words. It was crazy times, and to be honest, I miss a lot. I have traveled a lot and I have seen many things, but I've never seen anything like the Pride times. It was just a completely special feeling, and the way they did it was so special. Nobody has done it the way they did it, and I don't think anybody will."