Mike Richman knows he has to go through Point A to get to Point B. But that isn’t going to stop him from having a few daydreams about who might be waiting at Point B when he gets there.
Richman (15-2 MMA, 4-1 BFC) on Thursday meets Magomedrasul “Frodo” Khasbulaev (20-5 MMA, 4-0 BFC) – Point A – in the featherweight finals of Bellator’s Season 8 tournament at Bellator 95. A win, and he hops in line for a 145-pound title shot.
And Point B? Well, right now, the champion is Pat Curran, who defends the belt against Shahbulat Shamhalaev in Bellator 95's main event right after Richman’s fight. And the winner of that fight is expected to meet Daniel Straus, who was in line ahead of Shamhalaev until an injury pushed him to the shelf.
So there are three scenarios that could await Richman if he beats Khasbulaev – he’s a 2-to-1 underdog. The one that would make him the happiest is a rematch with Shamhalaev, who beat him in November in the Season 7 tournament semifinals. But he’s trying to forget about those three and keep his mind focused on the first obstacle.
“It’s tough to say who’ll come out on top with all of that,” Richman told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “My dream would be for Shahbulat to win so I can fight him for the belt, and get my rematch. In the end, I just want the best guy to be the champ, and I’ll fight him. I’ll fight every one of them. Every one of them is a different fight and a different matchup.
“I’m not thinking about any of them though. I still have ‘Frodo’ in front of me and, if I get that far, I’ll still have a full training camp to prepare for the differences of whoever I’m going to fight.”
Richman believes all three potential opponents – again, should he get past Khasbulaev – present their own difficulties, though.
“Out of Pat Curran, Daniel Straus and Shahbulat, I think the most dangerous is Shahbulat,” he said. “I think the matchup nightmare is Straus, because he’s so aggressive and nonstop with his takedowns. Obviously the most experienced is the champ, the veteran – and that’s Curran. People say Curran’s a good standup guy, but I think he’s so smart and experienced, and he’ll fight wherever he has the best advantage.”
But returning his focus to Khasbulaev, “The Marine” believes that even though his Russian opponent has never been knocked out, he will be the first man to do it.
Khasbulaev comes into the finals with an eight-fight win streak, seven of which have come by stoppage. His four losses have been by submission. But Richman is thinking about stopping him with his hands.
Richman thought he would stop Alexandre “Popo” Bezerra in the semifinals this past month, but had to settle for a split decision.
“I’m going to enforce the game and I’m going to stick and move,” he said. “I’m going to have good lateral movement. You’re going to see a lot of hand-speed and a lot of effective striking with my jab, my cross and my hooks. He seems to have a granite chin, but we’re going to find out. My defensive skills and my counter-wrestling will be the edge – the defining factor in this fight.
“I predict that I’m going to knock him out (or) TKO, first or second round. If he has an iron jaw like ‘Popo,’ then I’m just going to end up boxing his ears off for all three rounds.”
It was that win over Bezerra, though, that let Richman know he might have taken himself to the next level as a fighter. Even though he didn’t get the stoppage he was hoping for – his previous three Bellator wins all were by knockout – Richman and his team at Minnesota Martial Arts Academy believe that the Bezerra win did him plenty of good.
“I was talking to Pat Barry and Greg Nelson afterward, and it’s just a gut check,” Richman said. “It’s an all-heart type of performance. It’s your heart and your character as a fighter. I was telling them that this was a more satisfying win than going out there and knocking someone out cold in a minute. Going out there and winning in that fashion, it just showed me that I could dig deep and I could earn a win against a high-level talent when I’m put in that situation. So it’s definitely a confidence booster in that aspect.”
But the bigger confidence boost would come with an upset of Khasbulaev.
And Richman remains highly confident that’s going to come on Thursday – and in the process, he’ll be putting the featherweight division on notice.
Frodo is tough as nails,” Richman said. “It appears that he hits hard. … He’s just a tough little hobbit. I think me going out there and winning this fight will be huge for my career. It’ll definitely open more eyes to my abilities – and my ability to go out there and win fights.”
Bellator 95 takes place at Revel Atlantic City in New Jersey. The evening’s main card airs on Spike TV at 10 p.m. ET following prelims on Spike.com (8 p.m. ET).
For the latest on Bellator 95, stay tuned to the MMA Rumors section of the site.