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Vadim Nemkov on representing Russia at Bellator 277: Keep sports out of politics

The Russian-born light heavyweight champ has maintained focus entering Friday's title defense despite Russia's war with Ukraine.
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Vadim Nemkov defends his light heavyweight title this Friday against Corey Anderson at Bellator 277.

Nemkov has yet to achieve the recognition he deserves for his otherworldly skill in the cage, but a convincing win would certainly help buttress his fight portfolio. Anderson (16-5 MMA, 3-0 BMMA) has won seven of his last eight fights, and he is the last man to defeat Glover Teixeira, who is the reigning UFC light heavyweight champion.

"I have a lot of respect for Corey," said Nemkov (15-2 MMA, 7-0 BMMA), who conducted the interview in his native Russian and spoke through a translator. "He has been fighting in this sport for a long time and had some serious battles. I took a lot of time to prepare for this fight."

Training in Kislovodsk, a city in southwestern Russia, Nemkov's camp was treated like a quarantine base. No one was let in or out, and his entire focus was on preparing for the challenge that awaits him in the cage. While Nemkov is well-aware of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he believes there should be a distinction between politics and sports.

"For me, I'm training," Nemkov said. "I try not to watch the news and I try to stay off social media. Keep sports out of politics. That's not my focus. My primary focus is preparing for this fight and getting this win."

Nemkov has heard the criticisms directed at Russia for their attack on Ukraine, but it has not altered his mindset entering this fight.

"I'm proud to be from Russia and proud to represent Russia," Nemkov said. "I think sports should be separate from politics."

Nemkov is fighting in the co-main event on the same card as the undefeated featherweight champion AJ McKee, who is Bellator's top-ranked pound-for-pound fighter. In addition to defending his title, 277 also represents a chance to seize that elusive top spot.

"It is important to be the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter for Bellator, but it's more important for me to win this fight," Nemkov said. "Again, that is my focus. I want to show a very beautiful performance and finish this fight by submission as early as possible."

Still two months shy of his 30th birthday, Nemkov has not yet reached his prime in mixed martial arts. That is a frightening thought for future opponents, and he plans to unveil a new layer of dominance this Friday against Anderson, showing every light heavyweight – both in and out of Bellator – that he is the best in the world.

"I am going to prove that," Nemkov said. "I'm a strong fighter from a strong school, and I am going to show the world why we are champions."

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.