Valentin Moldavsky is the new Bellator interim heavyweight champion and has guaranteed a position to unify the title with Ryan Bader.
With Bader absent to defend his crown due to his participation in the light heavyweight grand prix, Moldavsky (11-1 MMA, 6-0 BMMA) picked up the interim strap in Friday’s Bellator 261 headliner when he beat Tim Johnson (15-7 MMA, 3-3 BMMA) by unanimous decision at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. The scores were 50-45, 49-46 and 49-46.
“I thought the fight was going to be a little easier,” Moldavsky said through an interpreter post-fight in his interview with John McCarthy. “It is what it is.”
The fight started out with a bit of a feeling out process, but then Johnson started to pick up the pace and pressure Moldavsky with his combinations. He found solid success backing Moldavsky up and forcing him to exchange, but the Russian was able to absorb the blows throughout the first round and slow Johnson down with some late clinch work.
Moldavsky collected himself well in the second round. He found his range in the striking exchanges with Johnson and was able to land some solid head shots. Johnson stayed in his face and consistently threw back, keeping the bout very competitive through 10 minutes.
The pace slowed down in the opening minutes of the third round, with Moldavsky utilizing the clinch. He broke free at roughly the midway point, and was able to chip away at Johnson from the outside. Moldavsky shot for his first takedown with less than two minutes left, and was able to burn time off the clock with a rear body lock position and get the edge in the round.
With both men starting to show fatigue in the championship rounds, the output slowed with clinch work near the fence. There were moments of exchanges, with Moldavsky having more success due to his speed and strike selection. Johnson received a cut around his right eye that the replay later showed came as the result of a head butt, and he showed some desperation with his late flurries.
With Moldavsky in control going into the final round, he didn’t take much in the way of chances. He stayed on the outside and picked his shots, while also fending off Johnson’s advances every time he got too aggressive. Johnson tired to push until the final bell, screaming at Moldavsky and pushing forward. Moldavsky obliges in some late chaos, but it wasn’t enough for Johnson to get the result-altering moment he needed to take the win and the belt.
With the win, Moldavsky becomes the second fighter from Team Fedor to hold a Bellator strap, joining 205-pound titleholder Vadim Nemkov. He’ll now meet Bader, who delivered a message to the new champion on social media.
Great fight! Moldavsky looked good, fast and his cardio was on point. Tim brought it but would have liked to see him threaten some takedowns. looking forward to coming back to Heavyweight let’s get it!
Complete Bellator 261 results included:
Valentin Moldavsky def. Tim Johnson via unanimous decision (50-45, 49-46, 49-46) – for interim heavyweight title
Liz Carmouche def. Kana Watanabe via knockout (punches) – Round 1, 0:35
Sidney Outlaw def. Myles Jury via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 3, 4:44
Daniel Weichel def. Keoni Diggs via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 30-27)
Christian Edwards def. Simon Biyong via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
John De Jesus def. John Teixeira via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Taylor Johnson def. Lance Wright via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 1, 2:58
Jaylon Bates def. Cody Matthews via submission (armbar) – Round 2, 4:04
Corey Samuels def. Isaiah Hokit via knockout (punches) – Round 1, 0:10
Soren Bak def. Bobby Lee via unanimous decision (30-26, 29-27, 29-27)