Bellator’s Bryan Baker: “Perfect Tournament” Includes Rematch With Alex Shlemenko
By Kelsey Mowatt
Coming off back-to-backs wins over UFC veterans Jeremy Horn and Joe Riggs, Bryan Baker is evidently in fine form as he heads into the opening round of Bellator’s latest middleweight tournament, Saturday night in Hollywood, Florida. While some fighters refuse to comment on who they would like to face in future tourney bouts, Baker makes no secret of the fact that he’s hoping to meet up with Alexander Shlemenko, the man who defeated Baker in the competition’s finals last year.
“That’s the perfect tournament for me; to go and get back to the finals with Shlemenko,” Baker told FCF. “I want to pretty much redo the first tournament and get right back to where I can avenge my loss, further my career and be Bellator champion.”
Although Shlemenko failed to defeat the promotion’s middleweight champ Hector Lombard, after winning 2010’s middleweight tourney, Baker believes that the Russian is one of the tourney favorites once again.
“I have Alexander as one of the tournament’s top competitors,” Baker said about the middleweight, who stopped him in the first round last June. “Being the last tourney winner he has a lot of confidence and experience; he has explosive stand-up, so I don’t see too many people stopping his game…of course it all depends on who meets up with who during the tournament.”
While Shlemenko will take on fellow noted striker Zelg Galesic in the quarterfinals this Saturday, Baker (15-2) will take on the resilient Jared Hess (11-2-1), who has also had several successes while competing for Bellator.
“Jared definitely has a lot of heart, you can’t question that one little bit, and he’s a really solid wrestler,” said Baker about his next opponent. “I expect him to be really tough, tough fight style, wanting to take the fight to the mat.”
“My striking is going to lead where I’m comfortable, that’s what my career has been about,” Baker added. “I’m a powerful striker and that makes my opponents uncomfortable, and once they get close to me, that leads right into my black belt Judo and also my wrestling abilities.”
Baker last competed in May, when he knocked out the aforementioned Riggs in the second round, to build even further on his unanimous decision victory over Horn last September.
“Those were huge wins,” said Baker, who got married this past summer “Such big names in the sport; they’ve both accomplished so much and to get victories over them only boosts my name more.”
Not only has Baker captured headlines in Bellator by defeating opponents like Riggs, and asking his girlfriend to marry him in the cage afterwards, the 25 year-old, Team Wildman fighter announced last year that he was battling chronic myelogenous leukemia.
“I’m still holding, I’m still in 100% remission,” Baker stated. “My blood has been good. It’s an everyday battle but on the bright side I’m feeling good, continuing to put work in and just furthering my career.”
Having competed for Bellator since 2009, Baker has had the opportunity to work alongside the promotion while it’s grown, through securing broadcast deals with companies like MTV 2 and Spike.com.
“I’m excited with what they’re doing, if they get picked up by Spike TV, it’s only going to add that many more fans; get more people talking about Bellator,” Baker noted. “For me, I just need to go in, take this tournament and get my title shot. Ultimately get that title and that belt.”