World Series of Fighting heavyweight champion Blagoy Ivanov has a history with Fedor Emelianenko, and he’d like to write a new chapter with the legendary Russian sometime in the near future.
A 22-year-old Ivanov shocked “The Last Emperor” in the semifinals of the World Sambo Championships in St. Petersburg, Russia, in November 2008, avenging a loss to the pound-for-pound legend at Russia’s Presidents Cup Sambo competition earlier that year and paving the way for the Bulgarian to win gold with a finals victory over Germany’s Janosch Stefan.
When Ivanov signed with Bellator a few year later, his triumph over Emelianenko, who back in 2008 pretty much won at everything, became a public relations selling point for a promotion pushing an up-and-coming fighter.
Ivanov has done well for himself in MMA, especially considering his near brush with death after being stabbed at a nightclub in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 2012 when he was 25 years old. Ivanov miraculously recovered and went on to win four of his five Bellator appearances before signing with WSOF.
Now 29, Ivanov will make his second heavyweight title defense against Josh Copeland at WSOF 31 on Friday night at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn. in a card to be televised on NBC Sports Network beginning at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.
Earlier that day, Emelianenko will face former Octagon veteran Fabio Maldonado in the second bout of his comeback tour at Eurasia Fight Nights 50, which will stream on UFC Fight Pass. Ivanov is still holding out hope that he and his sambo rival can square off again someday, somewhere -- only this time under a different rule set.
“My dream fight? Maybe to fight Fedor in America because I’ve got history with him,” Ivanov told Sherdog.com. “He beat me the first time at in combat sambo and I beat him the same year at the world championships....I think it would be great if we meet in the cage.
“It would be very interesting because we’ve got that Eastern Europe style...and the sambo skills.”
Perhaps such a showdown is more than a pipe dream. Ivanov says he has one more fight remaining on his WSOF contract after Saturday night and would like to fulfill that before year’s end. Meanwhile, Emelianenko recently claimed during an appearance on ”The MMA Hour” that he is closer than ever to signing with the UFC.
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At the very least, Ivanov would like to test himself against the highest level of heavyweight competition the sport has to offer, and it’s at least implied that he might have to go elsewhere to do so. He is 13-1 with one no contest in his MMA career to date and has finished Smealinho Rama and Derrick Mehmen in his first two WSOF appearances.
“I think I’m Top 20 [in the world],” Ivanov said. “I think I can beat guys in the Top 5 and Top 10 too. When you got to beat the best, you’ll be the best. I want to fight the best fighters.”
Ivanov has found himself plenty tested in the training room after spending part of his last three camps at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., home of UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and former heavyweight ruler Cain Velasquez.
The learning curve at AKA is steep, but the experience has been beneficial for a fighter with lofty aspirations.
“When you work out with the best fighters, you grow up,” said Ivanov, who also trains at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas. “Your skills grow up too because these are the best fighters in the world.”