Bellator 288 — Corey Anderson inspired by Rumble Johnson ahead of title bid

Corey Anderson received an unexpected text message last month. The sender was his friend and fellow MMA fighter Anthony “Rumble” Johnson.

Anderson and Johnson hadn’t spoken to each other for several months, but Rumble was known to check on his buddies when they approached a fight. This particular text contained words of encouragement mixed with some advice.

“Yo hands up no mistakes,” Anderson said, Johnson wrote to him. “I don’t see that guy hitting you bro. It’s your fight.”

The two exchanged more texts and Johnson, who Anderson knew was ill, said he was feeling “fine” and he would “beat that.” Last Sunday, Anderson found out that Johnson had died at the age of 38 after battling a disease linked to his liver for more than a year.

Anderson said he pondered Johnson’s words throughout his training camp and they kicked in even more after Johnson’s death. At Bellator 288 on Friday in Chicago (9pm ET, Showtime), Anderson challenges Vadim Nemkov for the Bellator Light Heavyweight Title with $1 million and the Bellator World Grand Prix Light Heavyweight Championship also at stake.

The messages of Rumble and his untimely death made Anderson reflect on what the fight means to him, not just as a competition, but “more for life.”

“Make it home to your family,” Anderson said. “Go home safely. … Make every day your best day because it could be your last day.”

This is the biggest fight of Anderson’s career. In April, he was on course to beat Nemkov and become champion, but an accidental heads-to-head clash while Anderson was on top caused a laceration to Nemkov’s head and the fight was called off. The result was a no contest. There would be no coronation from Anderson that night, despite the fact that he had dominated the fight with his wrestling to the finish.

ESPN has Anderson ranked 5th in the world light heavyweight division and Nemkov ranked 8th. Anderson has a UFC victory over former UFC light heavyweight champion Glover Teixeira, challenging the man who dethroned him, defending champion Jiri Prochazka, in a rematch will be at UFC 282 next month. Prochazka beat Nemkov in the ricin promotion, but it was a fight in which Nemkov did very well before fizzled out in a 10-minute Japanese-style first round.

Anderson feels if he beats Nemkov he will be the best light heavyweight fighter in the world. And there is a case that can be made in his favor. The Illinois native is unbeaten four times in a row since leaving the UFC and has three finishes to his credit, including one over current Bellator Heavyweight Champion Ryan Bader.

“How can you not say that the two best are here?” said Anderson. “These two fought the top two there and we’ve already proven why we’re better than them. Now it’s up to us to determine who’s the best.”

When Prochazka beat Teixeira for the UFC title in June, Anderson watched at home and turned to his wife and told her, “Yo, I would have chased those two guys.”

“I would have taken them down and just ground and hammered them,” Anderson told ESPN. “The way I’m fighting now, it’s easy. I don’t go out and try to be exciting. I’m not worried about pleasing the fans. I don’t go out and hit anyone.”

Returning to his wrestling basics was key to Anderson’s success at Bellator. In the UFC, Anderson said he’s forced to take care of knockouts and highlights and social media followers. When he signed with Bellator in 2020 after asking for his UFC release, Anderson told promotions president Scott Coker that he wanted to be himself again. It’s hard to argue that it didn’t pay off for him.

“I just want to win,” Anderson said. “You’re looking for a knockout to get the attention and retweets and reposts and suddenly it makes you famous on social media. I don’t care about being famous. It’s important to me to be a winner.”

And that’s where the thought of Rumble comes in again. If Anderson can win his fights by defeating his opponents and taking no damage and get back to his family healthy, that’s what he’s all about. The fact that Johnson addressed him with these words while Rumble himself was fighting for his life is not lost on Anderson either.

“That meant he was real,” Anderson said.

family feud

Bellator 288’s co-main event is an easy title fight featuring two big names in MMA. Patricky “Pitbull” Freire will defend the belt against Usman Nurmagomedov. Freire is, of course, the older brother of Patricio Freire, the greatest fighter in Bellator history, a three-time (and current) Bellator Featherweight Champion and former Bellator Lightweight Champion. Nurmagomedov is the cousin of the great and former UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is also Usman’s trainer.

The fight is a big one for both men. Patricky won the title in November 2021 and it is the first time he has held a Bellator belt after being in the promotion for 11 years. He holds a slew of Bellator lightweight records and is tied with Michael “Venom” Page for most knockouts in promotion history (10). Usman Nurmagomedov, on the other hand, is only 24 years old and is trying to become the next member of his family and team to go gold. Islam Makhachev, Khabib’s longtime teammate, won the UFC lightweight title at UFC 280 last month. Bellator 288 — Corey Anderson inspired by Rumble Johnson ahead of title bid

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