At Bellator 244: Bader vs. Nemkov, dual-weight champion Ryan Bader (27-5) will defend the lighter of his titles against Russia’s highly-touted Vadim Nemkov (12-2), but that doesn’t mean the card is devoid of heavyweight action.
Russia’s Valentin Moldavsky (9-1) will face the biggest test of his career against Ultimate Fighter and UFC veteran Roy “Big Country” Nelson (23-18).
Moldavsky, 28, began his MMA career as an amateur light heavyweight in 2014 under the promotional banner of Cup of Russia, an organization that featured the likes of UFC bantamweight champion Petr Yan (15-1), UFC prospect Damir Ismagulov (19-1), and other notable Eurasian fighters.
The 6’1″, now 230-pound Moldavsky won the 2014 light heavyweight tournament championship at 4-0, and reached the finals of the 2015 tournament. There, he suffered his lone loss – and final fight – an amateur martial artist to future top UFC prospect Magomed Ankalaev (13-1).
Moldavsky turned pro in 2015 after a 4-1 amateur career, getting off to a strong start with a first-round armbar in his debut fight.
It was in his second pro fight that Moldavsky moved to heavyweight, weighing in at 215 pounds ahead of a first-round rear-naked choke victory on RIZIN’s 2015 Grand Prix event.
After another first-round submission, this time in Russia’s Fight Nights Global, Moldavsky, the protege of iconic heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko (39-6, 1 NC), returned to Japan to compete in RIZIN’s 2016 Openweight Grand Prix.
The 2018 Combat Sambo World champion continued to put on mass throughout the tournament, defeating Karl Albrektsson (9-3) at 217 lbs before jumping up to 225.3 lbs three months later against Szymon Bajor (20-9). At 5-0, Moldavsky entered with finals of the Grand Prix against wrestling World champion Amir Aliakbari (10-1).
Moldavsky suffered the lone loss of his professional career to Aliakbari, an Iranian wrestling behemoth who achieved gold medal distinction at two World wrestling championships, the latter of which was stripped – and his ability to wrestle competitively ever again precluded – due to a doping violation.
Since the 2016 loss to Aliakbari, a split-decision, Moldavsky has resided in Bellator’s heavyweight division. The Russian has taken on an increasingly challenging – if infrequent – schedule with flawless success, amassing a 4-0 record in the promotion with victories over former title challenger Linton Vassell (20-8) and fellow divisional prospect Javy Ayala (11-8) in his most recent appearances.
A physically impressive heavyweight, Moldavsky combines a relentless, controlling wrestling game and positionally competent grappling attack with the speed and stamina one might expect from a 225-pound heavyweight training under the tutelage of Emelianenko.
Perhaps most impressively, yet not unexpectedly due to his combat sambo experience, the 10-fight MMA’s veteran is able to efficiently conserve his energy and dictate the terms of his fights, often a rarity among heavyweight prospects.
Moldavsky’s bodylocks and trips are strong enough to subdue far heavier opponents, and his flowing, position-over-submission grappling style – fraught with mat returns and transitions to maintain control – keep his opponents in a constant state of defensive grappling, a taxing game to play against the 28-year-old Russian whose style has been honed by years of conditioned experience.
His game may not be the flashiest, but Moldavsky’s grinding style and seemingly limitless physical advantages make him a future force to be reckoned with in Bellator’s heavyweight division.
The Russian will have his hands full, however, against Roy Nelson.
The former UFC stalwart, now 44, has had an up and down career; while Nelson was once a power-punching top ten contender, his best days are most certainly behind him.
Nelson is not the fighter he once was. Since signing with Bellator, Nelson has gone a paltry 1-4, scoring a win over Ayala and a loss to Heavyweight Grand Prix semi-finalist Matt Mitrione (13-8) before dropping three straight fights to fellow heavyweight holdovers. In his last ten fights dating back to 2015, Nelson is 2-8.
That is not to say that Nelson is a pushover, and those anticipating an easy fight for Moldavsky may be jumping the gun.
Nelson’s chin remains legendarily granite, and his in-cage experience affords him a level of veteran savvy Moldavsky has yet to face. Nelson’s size, especially compared to the Russian’s, and punching power may also play a factor in the fight.
With a win over Nelson, Moldavsky can add the most notable name yet to his impressive, growing resume. The Russian 28-year-old would also count the win as his most high profile, inching one step closer to the top of the Bellator heavyweight division.